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Ergonomics : Safe Facilities in the Workplace

Ergonomics is the study of human potential and capabilities with respect to the demands at work. It is derived from the two Greek words, “Ergon” which means work and “nomoi” which means laws of nature. It was first coined by Wojciech Jastrzebowski in 1875. This field of study draws on many disciplines like physiology, psychology, anthropometry, etc…Its earlier name was Human Factors. It is essentially used to design work environments that are safe and efficient.

Ergonomics is broadly classified into three domains :  physical ergonomics, cognitive ergonomics and organizational ergonomics. Physical ergonomics deals with the capability of the human body to respond to physical and physiological work load. Cognitive ergonomics is also known as engineering psychology. It focuses on the mental activities like perception, cognition, attention, memory storage and retrieval and motor control. Organizational ergonomics is otherwise known as macroergonomics. It is concerned with the sociotechnical systems within an organization.

One of the most important aspects of physical ergonomics is regarding the posture of the employees while at work. One of the most serious injuries at work is back pain. The ergonomics program in an industry is focused on identifying work patterns that are healthy and reduce stress on the worker. There are two situations that are associated with back pain. They are accidental injuries and non-accidental injuries. The former are caused by unexpected events that injure the back whereas the latter are triggered because of stress, poor exercise, fatigue, etc…In order to avoid such situations some basic ergonomic guidelines can be developed, like giving the worker a description of the job based on the duration of task and the motions that are required while performing it.

There are some keys to identify situations that may lead to a back injury:

• Prolonged static posture
• Repetitive or frequent stretching
• Lifting heavy loads
• Fatigue

Some of the ergonomic products that function in the physical domain are keyboard trays, wrist rests, mouse support trays, forearm supports, document stands, adjustable seating, glare screens, foot rests, height-adjustable tables, task lighting, monitor arms, etc…

Alexander Technique is commonly used to combat back problems at work. It is a method to release muscle tension. F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) invented this method when he developed chronic laryngitis when he was a Shakespearean orator. He observed his voice as he spoke and noticed that undue muscular tension caused vocal problems. This technique works on the premise that human beings are creatures of habit. Noticing your body movements and postures is the first step to heal. It helps you unwind habits that you did not know you had because you did not pay attention to them. Since this method requires a lot of concentration as well as undoing of habits, it is a slow process.

Cognitive ergonomics is used to design effective human-computer interfaces and complex automated systems. As an example, a poorly designed cell phone may not directly cause an accident but it may lead the customer to neck problems, eye ache, etc… which in turn leads to dissatisfaction and may cause a business failure. Human beings must be considered while designing any product. An offshoot of this branch is neuroergonomics. It was fist extrapolated by Raja Parasuraman to describe the study of brain and behavior at workplace.

Organizational ergonomics is a consolidation of both physical and cognitive ergonomics. It involves framing policies and designing structure in a way that enhances worker productivity. Sociotechnical systems are to be optimized, which involves processes like job analysis, motivation, autonomy, satisfaction, team-building, etc…The term “sociotechnical” was given by Eric Trist and Fred Emery, who are consultants at the Tavistock Institute in London.

Ergonomics has dominant applications in the aging and health care industry, aerospace, IT, transportation sector, etc…Extensive research is being performed so as to enable businesses do better.

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Posted: 21/09/2011 10:39:49


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