Why Is Ergonomics Important?
Ergonomics, or �human factors�, is the science of designing equipment, the workplace and even the job to fit the worker. It covers a broad spectrum of factors that make up the fit between humans and work. Ergonomic research enables designers to create equipment better suited to the human form so that it puts less stress on the body, as well as controlling external factors such as light, temperature and noise so workers can be at their most productive for longer.
Ergonomics also covers the presentation of information to the worker. By studying the way the data is presented, ergonomic researchers can improve the presentation, recognition and retention of the information being presented.
The five main principles of ergonomics are:
* ease of use
* productivity and performance
These principles can be broken down into three areas:
Physical ergonomics is concerned with the way the body interacts with the workers� tools (anything from shovels to chairs to personal computers) and their effects on the body such as posture, musculoskeletal disorders, repetitive disorders, workplace layout and workplace health and safety.
Cognitive Ergonomics relates to the way the mind processes information it is presented with and associated motor functions, memory usage, decision-making and other mental workloads. Study of these factors and the interation between humans and the data presentation can improve everything from the placement of signs, the visibilty and recognition and retention of the data and areas such as Human Computer Interaction (HCI) to improve everything from operating systems to websites.
Organizational Ergonomics is concerned with optimizing the workplace, everything from teamwork to assessing teleworking and quality management.
Ergonomics was pioneered by the Greeks but was transformed into a science by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the late 19th Century when he pioneered his �Scientific Management� method to discover the most efficient method for carrying out a specified task. Using his method, Taylor set out to discover the optimum way to shovel coal by experimenting with shovels of incrementally reduced size and weight until the fastest shovelling rate was achieved. In the early 1900s these methods were expanded into �time and motion studies� which help to eliminate unneccessary steps in a given process.
Ergonomics took another leap forward during World War II as the demands on the human body from the first real mechanised war took it�s toll on the mind and the body. Attempts to reduce the phenomenon of �pilot error� by the U.S. Army led to changes in the layout and design of cockpit interiors and the theories behind the changes spread to other branches of the armed forces.
The information age put different demands on ergonomic research with everything from computers, mice, chairs, joysticks and more needing to be designed. A high profile example of ergonomic designing improving the HCI of a games console is the Wii remote control, specifically designed to be simple to use, easy to hold and not tiring to use.
How does egonomics improve Health and Safety in the workplace?
Ergonomics in the workplace can reduce the potential for accidents, injury and ill health and improve productivity and performance. Accidents can be reduced by through better design of controls. If, for example, a switch on a control board is switched on accidentally it may mean the switch should be moved to prevent accidental operation. This is ergonomics in action.
Ill health or injury can be prevented by ensuring there is adequate lighting in all areas and that such lighting does not cause glare or causes eye strain due to low light levels. If, for example, an operator�s mouse is positioned too far away and requires repeated streaching movements to reach then this could lead to Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI). Re-arranging the operator�s work area so the mouse and other frequently used items are within easy reach can prevent such injuries. A computer operator�s chair must also be adjustable to the correct height for the operator to prevent hunching, should provide lumbar or lower back supportand enable the operator to sit at a comfortable distance from the screen and keyboard.
Ergonomic principles even extend to a worker�s shift patterns. Shifts should have enough time betwen them to enable the worker to recover fully, attend to domestic responsibilities and prevent workers from doing excessive overtime. This means workers are rested, alert, and less likely to have an accident or fall ill.
There are several ways you can identify an ergonomic problem, from simple observation and common sense through to risk assessments or simple checklists. We recommend several methods are used to cover all eventualities.
If you think you have identified an ergonomic problem there are several things you should do to solve it.
* Look for causes and solutions. Minor alterations could make a big difference and do not need to be expensive.
* Talk to employees and take suggestions from them. The workers actually performing the task usually have the best insights into how a job can be improved.
* Ask a qualified ergonomics expert.
* Consult the HSE website for guidance material on ergonomics.