Ergonomics is the scientific study of human work. “Ergo” means work and “nomics” means study of.  Ergonomists examine the physical and mental capabilities and the physical limits of the worker as they interact with tools, equipment, work methods, tasks and the working environment.  Ergonomics is the art and science of fitting workplace conditions and physical job demands with the capabilities of the person. Ergonomics examines the level of effort and the effect of fatigue on the employee and how to best make the job design physically sustainable for the employee.  It is an applied science that considers designing the job, workplace components and arranging the workplace to maximize safe and efficient physical and mental interaction. Ergonomics can improve your bottom line.

The Purpose of an Ergonomic Evaluation of a Job
An ergonomic evaluation objective is to evaluate potential risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) associated with performing the tasks and to find possible solutions, improve worker productivity, reduce fatigue and optimize the output and skills needed to perform the work. WMSD is a collective term for syndromes characterized by “work related musculoskeletal disorders” to joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues, with or without physical manifestations. It can be caused or aggravated by repetitive motions including vibrations, sustained or constrained postures, mechanical compression, and/or forceful movements.

Ergonomics assessments identify potential ergonomics stressors, solutions and modifications related to the job, work-related discomfort and the individual employee.  The ergonomics needs are conveyed to the ergonomics team and management members via a report and spreadsheet of actions that can be taken to address the problems identified.  Ergonomics can improve work productivity, reduce injuries, reduce rework, reduce turnover, decrease fatigue levels and optimize the operator’s skills and increase job satisfaction by empowering the operator.

Body Motions, Postures and Conditions Evaluated During an Ergonomics Assessment of a Job

Push/Pull/ ForcesStatic Postures
Crawling, bending, stooping, climbingWorking at heights
Crouch or kneeling posturesReaching below the knee level
Use of excessive forceManual material handling
Reaching above the shoulder level or extended reach posturesExposure to temperature/humidity
Repetitive motionsExposure to vibration
Workstation and task designExposure to excessive noise
Sustained pinch gripsTask lighting

Abatement Strategies
There are three main abatement strategies used to eliminate or reduce ergonomic deficiencies in the work setting:

Engineering Controls
are always the strategy of choice for hazard abatement. They physically remove or reduce the exposure by re-designing the job or work environment. Often tools that are used to perform the tasks reduce the hazard.

Administrative Controls
Administrative controls are directives from management on changes in work process or procedures. Examples include mandatory breaks and instituting a new job rotation that will reduce the level of static loading to the musculature; and encouraging change of position.

Work Practice Controls
Work practice controls are generally changes over which the employee themselves have control. For example, what posture to use, how much force to exert when performing a task, and how to avoid situations that might increase one’s risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder. The best method of addressing this hazard control is training and insuring proper methods for performing tasks are used.

Engineering Controls
(implement physical change to the workplace, which eliminates/reduces the hazard on the job/task)
  • Reduce the weight of a load to limit force exertion
  • Reposition a work table to eliminate a long/excessive reach and enable working in neutral postures
  • Use a device to lift and reposition heavy objects to limit force exertion
  • Use diverging conveyors off a main line to reduce repetitive nature of tasks
  • Install diverters on conveyors to direct materials toward      the worker to reduce excessive leaning or reaching
  • Redesign tools to enable
Administrative and Work Practice Controls
(establish efficient processes or procedures)
  • Require that heavy loads are only lifted by two people to limit force exertion
  • Establish systems of rotation of job tasks to minimize the duration of continual exertion, repetitive motions, and awkward postures. Design a job rotation system in which employees rotate between jobs that use different muscle groups.
  • Staff “floaters” to provide periodic breaks between scheduled breaks
  • Properly use and maintain pneumatic and power tools
Work Practice Controls and Personal Protective Equipment
(use protection to reduce exposure to ergonomics-related risk factors)
  • Use padding to reduce direct contact with hard, sharp, or vibrating surfaces
  • Wear good fitting thermal gloves to help with cold conditions while maintaining the ability to grasp items easily with neutral postures

Potential Cost Savings Benefits of Ergonomics Programs Are:

  • To decrease in number, severity and associated costs of occupational injuries and illnesses that may occur (National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health [NIOSH], 1997)
  • Reduced lost time and lost workdays
  • Reduced Workers’ Compensation claims
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased employee turnover
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Increased employee satisfaction
  • Increased work quality
  • Decreased scrap and rework (Punnett L1.New Solutions. 1999; 9 (4):403-26)