Overview of Ergonomics

What is Ergonomics?

"Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among humans and other elements of a system . . . that applies principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being . . . ergonomists contribute to design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments and systems in order to make them compatible with the needs, abilities, and limitations of people."— International Ergonomics Association

  “Ergonomics” means fitting the work to the worker by modifying or redesigning the job, workstation, tool, or environment. It draws from the fields of engineering, information technology, and medical and cognitive sciences to optimize the work environment. By identifying risk factors that can result in an injury or illness, and correcting these hazards, employees can have a healthier workplace. Some of the factors evaluated in an ergonomic analysis are the:

    i.     Repetitiveness of a task

   ii.     Posture and movement of the limbs and the whole body as a task is performed

 iii.     Physical strength required for a task

  iv.     Design and use of tools and computer software

  v.     Design and layout of the work area or equipment 

Benefits of Ergonomics 

The potential benefits of ergonomics are: 

   i.     Improved safety and health in the workplace

   ii.   Improved employee morale and job satisfaction 

  iii.    Improved productivity and work effectiveness

 iv. Improved quality of work, with reduced risk of errors 

   v. Reduced absenteeism and employee turnover 

  vi. Reduced medical and workers' compensation costs associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders

Ergonomics is an ongoing process, not a “quick fix.” Over time, changes in equipment, software, and work procedures can either enhance or undermine the ergonomics of the work environment.  Continued awareness and cooperation among responsible groups are essential to an effective ergonomics program.  It is a continuous process that must anticipate and adapt to changes in work processes and technology. 

Ergonomic Risk Factors

A risk factor is a work pattern or condition that increases the chances that problems will occur.

1) Repetition Motion (e.g. Keyboarding, mouse clicking, pipetting, opening/closing tubes).

2) Sustained/Stationary Positions (e.g. holding your arms or back unsupported for long periods, prolonged sitting/standing).

3) Awkward postures/motions (e.g., wrists bent while using the keyboard, mouse, or pipette, reaching or leaning forward).

4) Insufficient Rest Breaks (e.g., working more than 1 hour without a break, working long hours to meet a project deadline).

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD's)

Musculoskeletal disorders include a group of conditions that involve the nerves, tendons, muscles, and supporting structures such as intervertebral discs. They represent a wide range of disorders, which can differ in severity from mild periodic symptoms to severe chronic and debilitating conditions. WRMSDs are musculoskeletal disorders caused or made worse by the work environment, and are also referred to as cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive motion injuries, repetitive strain injuries, and overuse injuries. 

WRMSDs can cause severe and debilitating symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling; reduced worker productivity; lost time from work; temporary or permanent disability; inability to perform job tasks; and an increase in workers’ compensation costs.

Musculoskeletal disorders are often confused with ergonomics. Ergonomics is the practice of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers. In other words, musculoskeletal disorders are the problem, and ergonomics is a solution. 

Employees with an average of 4 or more hours per day at computer or 4 or more hours per day performing repetitive or static office work are identified as being at elevated risk for developing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) based on their work tasks.