Ergonomics is the science concerned with designing the job, equipment, and workplace in order to optimise human wellness and overall performance. Also termed human engineering, and human factors engineering, Ergonomics applies human needs research and seeks to ensure compatibility between people and their employment.
Ergonomists research human abilities in relation to their job demands and this information contributes to designing work related products, environments, and systems, that are compatible with the needs of workers.
Bio-mechanics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, kinesiology, physiology and psychology are just some of the many disciplines that ergonomists include in their studies.
Unlike our ancestors who made things to suit themselves, we rely on designers who are far removed from our needs. Designing products ergonomically results from user feedback. Ergonomists observe people while using equipment, speak with users and provide test products. This user-centred approach to designing aids in preventing poorly designed products that are damaging to the health and the performance of the worker.
The origin of ergonomics is credited to Ancient Greece. Evidence suggests that as far back as the 5th century BC Hellenic civilisation used ergonomic design in their work environment. Hippocrates’ description of a surgeon’s workplace is an example of the ergonomic design evident in Ancient Greece. The word ergonomics stems from two Greek words, ergon [work] and nomos [natural laws].
In the late 1800s, Frederick Winslow Taylor, introduced the “Scientific Management” method, a theory of management that improved labour productivity as a result of analysis and deductive reasoning. By giving workers smaller and lighter coal shovels, Taylor found that he could, triple the production of coal workers.
Enlarging upon Taylor’s methods, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, in the early 1900s, formulated “Time and Motion Studies”. By eliminating inessential processes, the Gilbreths drastically increased the hourly productivity of bricklayers.
Ergonomics, though having an application to domestic living, is more significant in the improvement of productivity, health and safety in the work environment. For example:
Reducing stress in the workplace by designing electronic equipment that is easy to use and designing the performance of work related tasks to provide rest periods, shift patterns, and rewards for the worker.
Designing equipment, lighting and heating, and work methods for the care and safety of the human body, thus reducing occurrences of posture problems, eye-strain, sickness and repetitive strain injuries.
Design of training arrangements and paraphernalia, such as handbooks, signs, and displays to take into account the ability of the users to take in knowledge.
By improving the safety of the workplace, Ergonomics can significantly reduce costs, decreasing the funds that have been paid out to millions of workers annually who sustain injuries on the job.
When applying ergonomics workplaces may choose a reactive or proactive approach. Reactive ergonomics is taking correction only if and when something needs to be changed. A workplace that applies proactive ergonomics attempts to make the necessary adjustments before problems arise.
Ergonomic improvements may be provided through the design of the physical equipment (equipment design), or by changing the way the people use the device (task design). Improvements can also be made to the work environment.
To prevent eye, arm, shoulder and neck fatigue, give attention to the proper placement of the computer monitor and keyboard.
Position the monitor so that top of screen is at or slightly below eye level and screen is no closer than 20 inches from your eyes. Make adjustments so that lights and window glares are minimised.
Keyboards should be positioned so that wrists remain flat and the keyboard is level with the height of your elbows.
Use an adjustable chair for comfort and safety and adjust as needed. Take rests from your work and stretch to prevent stiffness and injury. Periodically makes adjustments to monitor, keyboard and chair to stay flexible.