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Ergonomics Definition – Why Do I Care?

ergonomics word cloud

Simply put, the ergonomics definition is:

The study of people at work, matching the right employee with the right task, with the hope of eliminating discomfort and risk of injury.

The employee is the first priority, focusing on maintaining a healthy and safe working environment for him or her. Ergonomics takes into consideration the abilities and limitations of the worker, and adjusts for these factors to boost productivity.

The main purpose of ergonomics is to promote employee safety, health, well-being, and efficiency. To really recognize why this is important, you need to know more than just the ergonomics definition.

Why Should I Care?

In the workplace, taking an individual’s abilities into consideration creates an environment for improved performance and productivity. You will feel better and quality of work will improve. This can contribute to your company’s competitiveness in the marketplace and bottom line.

Ultimately, ergonomic improvements may:

Reduce Work Place Injuries:

By identifying and reducing risk factors, you can reduce many musculo-skeletal disorders (MSD). MSDs are injuries to your bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, or nerves. Repetitive motion or stress on the body over time can lead to these types of injuries.

Man with back pain, ergonomics clip art

Approximately $1 out of every $3 spent on worker’s compensation claims comes from a musculoskeletal injury. Improving workplace design can have a significant savings!

Repetitive motion and stress is a risk factor of developing MSD, but isn’t the only cause. Employee lifestyle and lack of proper training and safety by employer can also have an effect.

– Increase Employee Productivity:

By adjusting for good posture, less exertion, fewer motions and better heights and reaches, an employee’s workstation becomes more efficient.

– Improve Product Quality:

Continuing from the above bullet, when it takes less energy and effort to complete the task, you can be more precise and accurate. This leads to consistency between products in addition to improved quality.

Additionally, as an employee becomes fatigued from the job, he or she can make mistakes that may lead to injury.

– Raise Employee Engagement and Satisfaction:

Employees notice when their company takes them into consideration and works towards improving health and safety. If you feel appreciated and are not overly fatigued and uncomfortable everyday, you want to come to work! Additionally, ergonomic improvements boost morale and increase employee involvement.

– Creates A Better Safety Culture:

Safety Culture "a way of life"

Ergonomic improvements shows commitment to safety and health. Healthy employees are a valuable asset that cannot be overlooked. I an employee cannot come to work because they are injured or sick, it can negatively impact the company.

Also, employees will take these principles outside of the workplace, applying them at home or help friends who may have similar issues. Ergonomics is incredibly valuable in the workplace, but is beneficial and applicable at home too!

Ergonomic Stressors

All jobs have some amount of ergonomic stressors. Any of these elements, or a combination of them, may place someone at greater risk for discomfort. An important factor to consider is the balance between tissue fatigue and the individual’s ability to recover from this fatigue.

Ergonomic stressors, or risk factors, can be broken down into the following three categories:

– Force required to complete a task

Tasks that require a large amount of force, or muscle effort to complete increases fatigue. Some controls to reduce risk are:

  • Add mechanical assistance, counter balance systems, adjustable tables, or power equipment to reduce work effort.
  • Use carts or dollies to limit lifting and carrying of heavy loads
  • Train employees of proper lifting technique.

– Awkward or static working postures

Remaining in unnatural positions for long periods of time place added stress on joints and muscles. Additionally, there is growing concern for the health and wellness risks associated with sitting for large time periods. Here are some adjustments to consider:

  • Modify work stations to limit reaching, stretching or crouching for long periods of time.
  • Train workers on proper work technique to limit injury.
  • Consider job rotation or employ more employees to complete the task to reduce length one employee is in a particular position.
  • Implement rest or stretch breaks to counteract awkward work positions. Train employees on appropriate counter-stretches and encourage adequate recovery time.

– Repetitiveness of a task

Tasks are considered highly repetitive if the cycle time between consecutive tasks is 30 seconds or less. The following are methods that may limit employee strain:

Ergonomic Assessment Tools

Knowing what the ergonomics definition is and the value it has in the workplace is fantastic, however it is not enough. Recognizing where employee strain occurs and taking the steps to limit them is necessary to a happy, productive workplace.

Here are some tools to help you assess workplace risks:

Top Ergonomics Apps

Who doesn’t love a smartphone app with lots of accurate, relevant advice right at your fingertips? Here’s a list of ergonomics apps available:

Cartoon of fitness, productivity, and safety iPhone apps

A poorly designed workstation can lead to employee fatigue, frustration and injury. No employer wants to hear these three words because it lowers productivity resulting in poor product quality and increased costs.

Also, most employees want to be comfortable and efficient at work. So understanding the ergonomics definition and improving workplace design is a win for everyone.

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