What Are Ergonomics?

What Are Ergonomics?

A person who is thinking of earning a degree in human factors, ergonomics or a related area of study may want to know, “What are ergonomics?”

In short, ergonomics is about having an efficient work environment. This could come through modifying designs for people for the sake of convenience and comfort. It’s good to understand:

  • what ergonomics is
  • how it works
  • what its benefits are

These could help a person decide if this is the right career path for their personal preferences and academic strengths.

What Ergonomics Means

Ergonomics refers to the science of designing a workplace to fit the needs of the users. It involves increasing efficiency and comfort.  It includes reducing workplace injuries that can result from poor design or workflow process. For example, in an office cubicle environment, the angle of a computer monitor and the distance from the chair’s seat to the floor can make a difference in a person’s experience of neck strain and back pain. In the fulfillment center, the positioning of conveyor belts can make a difference in a person straining their back to reach an item.

Goals and Purpose of Ergonomics

One of the purposes of ergonomic studies is to make a space fit the person who uses it. The goals of ergonomic ideology involve increasing productivity by reducing movements that are:

  • unnecessary
  • unnatural
  • repetitive

Another goal of ergonomics is to increase comfort and flexibility in the workplace. For example, a person who has to use a computer all day could benefit from having an option to:

  • sit in a desk chair
  • sit on a balance ball
  • stand

A person might want to have all of these options available in order to reduce back, shoulder and neck pain and stiffness.

How Ergonomics Can Be Implemented in a Workplace

What Are Ergonomics?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are many steps in implementing ergonomic practices in the workplace. Those steps begin with providing and encouraging the support of management. Managers have to be on board and understand how an ergonomic design will benefit the bottom line.

Worker involvement is the next step. Employees may have to be convinced of how ergonomics can reduce their discomfort. The following steps in the process include:

  • providing training
  • identifying the problems in the workplace design
  • encouraging the reporting of musculoskeletal disorders related to poor design
  • implementing solutions to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in workers
  • evaluating the progress toward ergonomic goals in the workplace

The Impact of Ergonomic Design in the Work Environment

There are many positive impacts of ergonomic design in the work environment. In 2013, musculoskeletal disorders and injuries accounted for about 33 percent of employee injury and illness cases. If a person strains their neck or back at work, they will end up needing time off of the job to recover. They might file a worker’s compensation claim, which is costly to the employer and reduces their own income. Ergonomic designs can reduce musculoskeletal injuries at work.

Lean Tools

What Are Ergonomics?

One specific ergonomic concept that has greatly affected the production industry is the use of lean tools. Lean tools are tools, components, or systems of tools that work to significantly increase efficiency in production processes. They also enhance safety. “Lean” here means that these are components that lack inefficiencies or any frivolous, unnecessary, or unsafe movements or expenditures of energy or time.

One common example of a lean tool seen in many production-based companies is the kanban. Kanbans are systems that deliver necessary parts or other materials to an assembly line only as needed. In the past, assembly line employees would hold up a card that would indicate the need for more parts once needed. Other employees might then risk injury by trying to hand-deliver those needed parts. However, now this process is automated by machine in many places. The kanban is that machine which precisely times and measures delivery to the assembly line area.

An andon system is another increasingly popular tool in many production facilities. This is a computerized visual feedback system. It acts as a sort of main point of status and communications for processes and workers on a plant floor. For example, an andon system might give visual information about:

  • the status of various machines
  • the speed of production
  • if help is needed by a worker at that time

Anyone in the area can then see all of this data on a visual display board. Thus efficiency and overall safety is maximized over previous methods of communications regarding these matters.

Jidoka tools and systems are yet another ergonomic and efficiency advancement seen via lean tools in many manufacturing setups. Jidoka are partially automated systems and individual tools. They can automatically stop if a problem arises. With jidoka components, employees can work in more capacities at once and with more safety in place.

Efficient Communications Methods

Efficiency in communication is a certain hallmark of ergonomic concepts. As touched on above, jidoka and andon systems in production-based organizations offer enhanced ergonomic communication methods. Such ergonomically-enhanced communications can also be seen specifically in airports and train and bus stations.

Here, large scroller boards constantly provide up-to-the-minute data on the status of incoming and outgoing passenger services. These systems are fed info via automated and semi-automated means. They then automatically communicate that data to masses of people needing that info. This provides a great aid to ergonomic matters through decreased need for unnecessary movement. Much of that ismovement with luggage en-tow, around these terminals and thus much less risk of injury

Another example of ergonomic-enhancing communications methods can be seen in the popular headsets used in personal and business affairs. These headsets are worn on the head and provide:

  • a microphone
  • incoming audio
  • a centralized connection that relays incoming and outgoing audio

There are many variations of this type of ergonomic communication tool, each with its own unique advantages. Despite the model though, these all reduce movement and distraction around the workplace and elsewhere. Subsequently they reduce ergonomic-related stress and injury.

Ergonomic Community Concepts

Entire communities also benefit from broad ergonomic concepts and methods. One example of this is in the layouts of many:

  • doctors offices
  • clinics
  • hospitals

The designs of these facilities are often ergonomic in nature so as to encourage better and safer:

  • movement
  • check-in processes
  • waiting areas
  • communications methods
  • workflow

In traffic control patterns on city streets, ergonomic principles are being increasingly considered by way of more intelligent traffic light systems and the use of traffic roundabouts. When there is less ergonomic consideration here, many studies show increased congestion and ultimately physical and even mental driver stress.

Helping to aid in the fight against ergonomic-related stresses and risks are:

  • Ramps in place of steps
  • anti-slip surfaces
  • automatic doors

Workforce Management

Modern workforce management practices arguably utilize ergonomic principles as much as any other area of society. These practices are designed to:

  • increase workflow
  • foster better and more concise communications
  • direct worker traffic and movements
  • increase the success of special events and other special situations

There are entire workforce management systems and software that are increasingly popular. They can help to automate the management of all aspects of entire workforces, from payroll and worker scheduling to human resources matters and training procedures. Efficiency and physical safety, as we are finding, are shown to correlate here time and time again.

Environmental Affairs

In the natural environment, increasing efforts are being made by many of the world’s nations to increase ergonomic harmony. Ergonomic methodology in the natural environment involves safety and efficiency with regard to:

  • people
  • plants
  • animals

A harmonious balance among all of these and all in one place is the ultimate goal.

Much of this new wave of ergonomic approach can be seen in:

  • agriculture
  • new building and construction methods
  • architectural design
  • city design
  • conservation practices

This has been especially true as the world has become more conscious of ongoing encroachments on natural habitats. We’re seeing the subsequent damage this can cause to those habitats as well as humanity itself. Examples of ergonomic approaches to environmental issues include the inclusion of:

  • green roofs and buildings that actually foster external vegetative growth
  • park designs that maintain healthy plant and animal habitats while allowing for substantial and safe human use and movement
  • the use of geothermal heating and cooling systems that minimize energy use and environmental impact while not creating human safety issues in the area otherwise.

Educational Routes in Ergonomic Degrees

What Are Ergonomics?

The world of ergonomic principles is a vast and growing one. As such, the educational parameters surrounding this type of work are also continuously growing. At this time, there are many degree programs devoted to the world of ergonomic principles as well as:

  • classes
  • primary and sub-studies
  • certification programs
  • other training routes

One of the most common of these educational paths is that of the degree in ergonomics. This kind of degree spans from the associate level all the way to doctorate level. It is designed to leave few stones unturned in this area of knowledge. For students studying along this kind of degree path, there are a number of directions that can be taken. Some examples of these include but are not limited to:

  • Bachelor’s of Occupational Health and Safety
  • Graduate Degree in Occupational Health and Safety
  • Master’s of Occupational Health and Safety
  • Master’s of Rail Safety Management
  • Master’s of Safety Science
  • Master’s of Safety, Health and Environment
  • Graduate Degree in Rail Safety Management
  • Master’s of Environmental Health
  • Master’s in Engineering Psychology
  • Master’s in Human Factors and Ergonomic Principles

Professional Associations of Interest

There’s more information on the vast world of:

  • ergonomic concepts
  • ergonomic career options
  • education, and more

There are a number of highly-relevant organizations that represent this area of interest or are involved as a secondary interest. The following are some of those recommended for further research into ergonomic subject matter.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as OSHA, is a government agency that’s a branch of the US Department of Labor. OSHA oversees many workplace practices and acts as a resource for good and legal practices for employees and employers alike. As part of the wealth of resources found at the OSHA, the agency also offers plenty of information on ergonomic principles in addition to facts and stats regarding not utilizing those principles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, popularly known as the CDC, is another government agency. This agency oversees a broad range of information and research regarding:

  • disease
  • health
  • overall wellbeing

Plenty of authoritative information can be found by researching with the CDC including information on ergonomic principles. Examples that can be found here include:

  • info on industrial hygienists’ work
  • ergonomic intervention approaches by individual industries
  • studies and stats on ergonomic-related injuries
  • back belt studies and facts
  • numerous useful links to other organizations involved in ergonomic matters

Office Ergonomics Research Committee

The OERC, or Office Ergonomics Research Committee, is a sizable consortium of companies and researchers devoted to all topics in the ergonomic area of study. Included in its goals are also those of prevention of ergonomic issues in the workplace and beyond. Anyone from the public can consult with the OERC for information on this subject.

Related Resource: What Are Psychomotor Skills?

The International Ergonomics Association

The International Ergonomics Association is widely seen as a sort of leading authority on ergonomic studies. It’s a cooperative made up of 52 individual ergonomic-focused organizations from around the globe. It’s based in Geneva, Switzerland. This organization can be contacted by the general public and private companies alike. A vast wealth of information can be found here such as:

  • ongoing study info
  • news events relevant to the ergonomic field
  • statistics
  • best practice methods and more

Applied Ergonomics Society

The Applied Ergonomics Society is yet another leading figure among the many organizations devoted to the study and betterment of ergonomic ideas around the globe. The website for this organization offers free access to a wide range of:

  • tools
  • resources
  • facts and stats
  • webinars
  • training opportunities
  • career opportunities
  • information on relevant conferences and other events

Anyone can inquire with the AES, although membership is also a valuable option.

Ergonomics in the workplacecan make a big difference in a person’s:

  • comfort
  • productivity
  • well-being

Ergonomics also has a place in the home environment. This is especially true for a person who works from home or who has experienced some health problems related to repetitive activities or their posture. Knowing the answer to “What are ergonomics?” could facilitate a decision for a college major or a job.

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