How Ergonomics Can Improve Workplace Safety

Ergonomics is the study of man and work.

The practice of ergonomics involves altering jobs and the work environment to fit the needs of the people doing the jobs, rather than expecting workers to change to fit their jobs.

The United States military adopted ergonomic principles and practices during World War II when pilot error due to complicated control panels became a major problem.

Military designers realized they had to change the way the controls were arranged in order to make them easier for pilots to use accurately.

They understood that they would get better results by redesigning the equipment than by expecting pilots to change their reactions, abilities, or behaviors.

Ergonomic Stressors

Since then companies have applied modern ergonomics to reduce injuries and improve profitability. Factors that contribute to ergonomic problems include: awkward postures, handling heavy materials, repetitive motions, vibration, and keeping the same position for a long period of time.

These stressors may involve the whole body or parts of the body.

Ergonomic stressors can cause serious injuries to workers, including tendonitis, back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other musculoskeletal conditions that can keep workers out of their jobs and severely impact their lives.

“Bad” ergonomics also causes potentially disastrous problems for businesses: increased workers’ compensation insurance costs, increased lost time and turnover, reduced productivity, poor employee morale, and impaired quality.

Adjustable Workstations

Adjustable workstations are one of the best solutions to a mismatch between the demands of jobs and the abilities of workers.

Workers can change the configurations of adjustable workstations to fit their body size, making them more comfortable.

Adjustability is especially important where workers share workstations.

Sit/stand workstations are height adjustable workstations that allow workers to do their jobs sitting or standing.

Because such workstations adjust quickly and easily, workers can change positions frequently throughout their shifts.

This reduces fatigue and the risk of sustaining musculoskeletal disorders.

An electronics assembly plant changed to adjustable sit/stand workstations.

As a result of this ergonomic intervention, turnover decreased by 30% and lost workdays due to musculoskeletal disorders went down 57%.

In another ergonomic success story, a factory installed waist-high carts with lazy Susans to bring materials to wrapping machines, reducing both bending and walking.

Productivity improved 400% after this simple equipment change.

Ergonomically designed workstations profoundly impact workflow and material handling.

Workers can operate with greater accuracy and speed when their workstations accommodate efficient movements and impose minimal physical strain.

Quality improves and waste decreases as a result.