What in lay terms is ergonomics and how do you practice it?
Ergonomics can be a fancy pants word that many people cannot give a real definition. Even in professional circles there are oftentimes differing opinions of what ergonomics really is. As it is, the Webster’s definition is sometimes perceived as out of date. My 10-year-old daughter, at a daddy-daughter day at school, knew her classmates could not understand what an ergonomist does, simply said ‘My Daddy takes away peoples pain”. Such pure unadulterated insight! Yes, ergonomics does take away peoples pain, not only in the occupational arena but also in the recreational area as well as in activities of daily living (ADL). Ergonomics applications are known to take away the pain, help folks recover and continue with their job. Simple as that. We have developed our methodology and unique thought processes giving us unique approaches and weapons to look at these pain causing issues and change them allowing the human being to perform work tasks without exacerbating an existing injury or developing a new one. By performing detailed analyses of the pain triggering work tasks and of the injury caused by them, we can fully understand the problem. This allows putting together a work plan to address these issues, and finally, we can develop a prototype tool or workstation modification and by testing and evaluation, we can ensure the problematic work tasks are modified to the point that they can be performed without injury. Yes, as my daughter says, “We take away peoples pain”, and we love doing it.
How do you do an analysis and develop a solution to a real ergonomics problem?
An analysis is not just simply showing up at the job site and saying you need an ergonomic this or ergonomic that, because an ergonomic anything doesn’t exist. I could give you the best ergonomic tool in the world and if you use it wrong or it isn’t applicable then it might make you worst. (See our article on Voodoo Ergonomics). Take for example a size 10 foot and a size 8 Nike shoe. Both are great, but they just don’t fit. And if that foot is extremely wide, then a special shoe is required. Similarly in any ergonomics situation, whether industrial or office, the most appropriate tool, piece of equipment or method must match the offending task causing the injury or potential injury to be effective. To make this match a detailed analysis comes into play because if you don’t understand the problem, you have no business attempting a solution. It’ like working with explosives, one wrong move and someone could really get hurt. We have seen this and followed work that was performed without a detailed analysis. The analysis looks at the injury in medical terms, (we speak doctor), followed by an analysis of the work tasks to determine the specific symptomology triggering posture. Following a solution is developed, sometimes with engineers (we also speak engineer). Testing and implementation follow this until all the team and injured worker are satisfied the solution is applicable and reduces the pain allowing their damaged anatomy to heal while they are still performing their job of choice.
What are “Smart Tools”?
Smart tools are those which take care of you, Hence that’s why they are smart. These tools are specifically designed to not only let you perform the job at hand effectively but to also take care of your anatomy while you are doing it. Whether it is backs, feet, toes, fingers, hands or arms, these tools allow you to perform tasks without injury to these anatomical areas. These designs may be specific to a special task or they may be applicable to a number of different tasks, Our job is to develop these tools allow you to perform your work tasks and not injury you hands arms, etc while doing it.
Isn’t ergonomics only for the computer workstation?
Emphatically NO, ergonomics is applicable to office and industrial settings; anywhere there is a specter of occupational injury. Anywhere there is an injury causing condition; ergonomics is applicable to design out the triggering mechanism. Even past the concept of occupational injury, there are recreational injuries, where ergonomics is also applicable. An injury is an injury, is an injury, is an injury. It doesn’t matter where it happened, it still is an injury. And someone’s anatomy is in danger. That is where ergonomics comes in. We also know that ergonomics is applicable in activities of daily living, also known as ADLs. Problems of carrying groceries, driving, washing dishes, combing hair, opening kid proof medicine bottles and a million other things which are either difficult to do or can cause / exacerbate injury can be addressed by ergonomic implementation with either simple body mechanic s or a design of a tool or method to do it better and easier. Most importantly it should be able to be performed without injury or the potential for injury. If it hurts while doing it, then ergonomics is probably applicable.
What ‘s the difference between office ergonomics and industrial ergonomics?
Obviously, office ergonomics is related to office or computer workstations (sometimes called white collar ergonomics), while industrial ergonomics relates to any other type of work tasks such as manufacture foundry, assembly, janitorial, painting, construction, equipment operators to name a few (also sometimes called blue collar or craft ergonomics. There are two main differences. The first is that in the computer workstation, there are only six main workstation elements to be concerned with (chair, keyboard, keyboard tray, input device, monitor, wastebasket). Whereas in the industrial area there is an infinite number of different work tasks to be concerned with and to really do industrial ergonomics, a medical or anatomical as well as engineering background is required to analyze the problems and to develop and install a solution. An anatomical or medical background by itself doesn’t’ allow for complete knowledge of engineering background. Similarly, a pure engineering background without anatomical training is also invalid Many people can do office ergonomics, but in the real world without an anatomical or medical background ergonomics shouldn’t be performed simply because someone read an article or took a class (see our article on Voodoo Ergonomics)
How do you do ergonomics in an industrial setting?
An analysis is performed in both office and industrial setting the same way. The big difference is that an office ergonomics analysis takes much less time. In the industrial arena, time is spent observing and evaluating all the tasks known to trigger symptomology or injury in workers. Sometimes this can involve many different tasks. Each one has to be observed evaluated and then back at our shop, a solution has to be developed, throughout, often prototyped and then implemented. An analysis in both office and industrial settings require the knowledge and application of medical /anatomical science since we are dealing with someone’s injury or pain, followed by some serious engineering thought and prototyping to develop a solution which will reduce the triggering work tasks. Prototyping, testing, retesting and final install are the mainstay elements to a real industrial ergonomics project
Why does your team have so many different specialists?
We have found out that some ergonomics, especially in the complex area of serious occupational injury in industrial areas as well as with the cases we get in the office environment (where the individuals are in really bad pain or have a significant injury) require a great deal of creativity and brain power. No one has a lock on all the worlds’ knowledge. As an example, in a team approach; a specialist in biomechanics may bring to light the specific anatomical posture or motion that causes the injury or pain. However, that is where their wisdom, as good as it is, stops. Then an ergonomist has to relate the task to what the injured workers are doing to the injury casual relationship. An engineer to develop a solution under the direction of the ergonomists often follows this. This is followed by a prototype specialist who would actually fabricate a test model of a tool or workstation modification to address the uncovered issues. The final stage is implementation by the ergonomists to ensure the device/workstation modification workers and the injured worker can get back to work and allow their anatomy to recover. One of our strengths is to be able to design while we are building prototypes, continually refining the final outcome. In this way, we can ensure that a complete approach will fully address any injury causal relationship.
How does ergonomics save money relative to productivity?
This is a simple but often overlooked or hidden concept. Simply put, if a worker feels better, they will work better. Ever worked with a toothache? The same goes for industrial injuries. That constant pain slows people down, diminishes their efficiency and often makes them want to be somewhere else out of pain. Obviously, if attention and efficiency are compromised, profitability goes down. In terms of performance, and not just productivity, we have found that any work task which is improved with ergonomic principles for injury prevention and ease of performance, will cut time off any operation and thus the workflow is faster, more efficient and with a rise in quality control. We have seen this and have worked with company engineers to show upper management the results See our article “The Economics of Ergonomics”.