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What is ergonomics?

adjustable desks help prevent MSDs

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Table of contents:

1. Introductions

2. What is ergonomics in the workplace

3. Types of ergonomics in the workplace

4. Physical ergonomics in the workplace

5. Cognitive Ergonomics

6. Organizational Ergonomics

7. How does ergonomics work


Ergonomics is the study of how people and their jobs "fit" together. It prioritises people by optimizing their postures while they are doing their tasks. It is also a science that ensures that jobs, tools, knowledge, and the work environment are all suited to each worker. 

Did you know that a 2019 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) study shows that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were the top factor for living years with disabilities? They call it: Years Lived with Disability (YLD). 

In 2017, the Global Burden of Disease Study also shared data showing lower back pain as the ultimate cause of disability. Both studies conclude that MSDs have been affecting some people’s life length since 1990. Unbelievable, isn't it? Anyone can suffer from MSDs if they don't care about ergonomics.

As the boss of the company, you can be your employees' lifesaver by helping them prevent MSDs. When you save them from those disorders, you also help extend their lives. Are you ready to fight against MSDs? First, let's learn about the definition of ergonomics in the workplace.

What is ergonomics in the workplace

an ergonomic workplace uses ergonomic equipment

Now, what is ergonomics in the workplace? It’s something managers should deal with.

We all observe that most of an individual's time is spent at work. Thus, their workstation plays a significant role in their health. To ensure that your employees' workstations don't affect their health, implement ergonomics in the workplace. It is not just a recommendation; it's also a requirement. If you're just starting to build your company, you must learn about ergonomic risk management.

In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the US Department of Labor emphasizes that every employer has an obligation under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) to keep their workplace free from recognized severe hazards, which include ergonomic hazards. 

Workplace ergonomics means the relations between the employees and their working environment. The environment is not just a physical place. It also refers to the equipment or tools employees use, the arrangement of the tasks they accomplish, and the frequencies of their resting time and movements.

Workplace ergonomics may sound relatively easy to deal with, but it's not. It is because it entails a lot of considerations and qualified methods. For example, the Philippine government imposes ergonomic duties for employers, workers, and other people involved. The duties include:

  • Equipping a place of employment for workers free from dangerous conditions that could cause illnesses, physical harm, or death
  • Using only approved specific industry sets of standards of devices and equipment for the workplace.
  • Providing trainings, drills, evacuation plans, etc., to deal with emergencies
  • Providing complete job safety instructions and proper orientation to all workers
  • Making arrangements for workers to have the time and resources to participate actively in the processes of planning, organizing, implementing, and monitoring the OSH management system

Achieving an ergonomic workplace is not done overnight. It takes processes, evaluation tools, and more.

The study of ergonomics is essential in workplaces because it helps you comply with the laws, eliminates disorders and injuries, improves employees' physical and mental health, and allows your employees to enjoy working. Studying it also entails learning about its different types.

Types of ergonomics in the workplace

It is crucial to learn how it affects employees before purchasing workplace items, equipment, chairs, and the like. To achieve an ideal ergonomic workplace, you have to be familiar with its different types. A lot of people may be aware of its general concept, but not everyone knows there are various types that also require specific ergonomic practices.

When you practice ergonomics correctly by addressing each workplace ergonomic type, it becomes more effective, achieves the desired results, and nourishes your employees' health and well-being. In short, you won't just implement it without any results.

So, what are the different types of ergonomics in the work environment? There are three: physical, cognitive, and organizational ergonomics. Let us briefly discuss each.

Physical ergonomics in the workplace

This is the type everyone is familiar with. Have your employees ever complained about back, shoulder, and even hand pains? How often? The physical type will let you know why your employees experience those pains. It targets the employees' general health, handling of materials, working postures, repetitive motions, etc.

Studying physical workplace ergonomics will show you how workers interact with their surroundings and teach you how to develop methods to aid physical efficiency. 

Remember that physical disorders are often subtle and seemingly petty, like back pains. Who would have thought back pains could lead to lifetime disabilities? It is essential not to overlook what your workers say about their physical conditions.

Cognitive Ergonomics

cognitive ergonomics focuses on mental processes

According to the National Institute on Aging, cognitive health is the ability to learn, think, and remember clearly, which is essential in one's everyday performance. Brain health is the target of the cognitive type.

Cognitive ergonomics lets you design, organize, and arrange information to create the right cognitive load. It considers human limitations on mental processes, like memory, reasoning, attention, and even motor response.

The managing level in your company or you, as a business owner, should be aware that part of ergonomic plans is taking care of your employees' mental health, as it affects their overall performance and how they live as human beings.

Organizational ergonomics

organizational ergonomics encourages teamwork

This type entails optimizing teamwork, communications, and output quality and quantity. Generally, it targets an organization's structures, policies, and processes.

"How will this help my employees?" you might ask.

Organization ergonomics make way for a great experience on a synchronized system. It forges seamless communications, processes, and management. If everything is put into the right place, it makes the job less complex, which leads to a healthy environment.

How does ergonomics work

Ergonomics works through different steps. In a general context, here’s a list of the things that ergonomics processes include:

Evaluation

one-on-one employee ergonomic evaluation

This entails talking to your employees and testing them to know their health conditions. According to The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it is of the utmost importance to conduct follow-up interviews with employees whose tasks result in excessive physical fatigue, tension, or discomfort.

Recommendation

After the employee evaluation, an ergonomics specialist will offer recommendations for your workplace according to the results of the data they gathered. Their recommendations will be based on what your employees need. The ergonomist will also provide consultative and technical expertise.

Observation of cost-effective practices

According to OSHA, these are the following cost-effective practices you can observe at your workplace:

  • Adjust your workstation to suit your frame
  • Adjust your chair again after lunch and again before you start your shift. As your body changes during the day, so should your surroundings.
  • Set up your workspace so that frequently used items are close by
  • Maintain a neutral posture through the furniture (e.g., chairs, workstations) size
  • Avoid extreme temperatures and regulate it 

Training

ergonomic training for employees

Training in ergonomics would be advantageous for all workers who are subjected to circumstances that contribute to the development of MSDs. Here are some of its benefits:

  • They will learn about your company's healthcare processes.
  • They will learn how to identify risk factors for WMSDs.
  • They will comprehend basic methods for lowering WMSD risk factors.
  • They will learn teamwork, agreement-building, ideation, and problem-solving techniques.
  • They will gain knowledge on how to submit WMSD issues.

Monitoring the changes and employees’ conditions

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), checking to see if you are handling risks in your business is an important step that is sometimes missed. It will give you peace of mind that you are doing enough to keep health and safety in check, and it might even show you how to do things better in the future.

Good monitoring will not only find problems, but it will also help you figure out what caused them and what needs to be changed to fix them. If your monitoring isn't good, you might find out that something is wrong, but you might not know why or what to do about it.

There are two types of monitoring:

Active methods - watch over how systems are designed, built, put in place, and run. Examples:

  • regular checks of the building, machinery, and equipment
  • health monitoring to keep people from getting sick
  • planned function check routines

Reactive methods - monitors evidence of poor health and safety practices, but they can also identify improved practices that can be transferred to other areas of an organization. Examples:

  • examining accidents and incidents
  • monitoring cases of illness and records of medical leave

The National Library of Medicine states that properly implementing ergonomics lets you match job requirements and environment to your employees, leading to optimized efficiency and excellent work outputs.

To implement it in the right way, you have to ask a specialist about an ergonomics assessment. If you're curious about an ergonomics assessment, learn more from this link.

The best thing about ergonomics

As you learn that MSDs are major factors for disabilities, it is about time to deeply understand ergonomics in the workplace. It protects your workers from physical injuries, stress, and slowly developing illnesses or disorders due to wrong postures, repetitive movements, excessive muscle tension, and mental stress.

Studying workplace ergonomics entails studying its different types: physical, cognitive, and organizational. Physical ergonomics concerns postures, handling, movements, and more. Cognitive ergonomics targets the workers' brain health, like memory, learning, and attention. The organizational type is relevant to the processes, communications, and management of the company.

Knowing how ergonomics work will allow you to create a healthy workplace for your employees because it entails matching them to the right things to use and the right surroundings.

So, don't wait. Start making your workers' workplaces more comfortable right away. After all, the sooner you take care of ergonomics at work, the less likely it is that employees will get hurt or sick, which is good for the company.

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