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 modifying designs for people instead of for a low cost or for the sake of convenience. Understanding what ergonomics is, how it works and what its benefits are could help a person decide if this is the right career path for their personal preferences and academic strengths.

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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 and 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

The purpose of ergonomics is to make a space fit the person who uses it. The goals of ergonomics involve increasing productivity by reducing unnecessary, unnatural or repetitive movements. 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, on a balance ball or stand while they do their work. 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

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are many steps in implementing ergonomics 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 and 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 in order 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.

Ergonomics can make a big difference in a person’s comfort, productivity, and well-being in the workplace. Ergonomics also has a place in the home environment, especially 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.