Ergonomics is concerned with the interaction between the worker and the job. The simplest definition of ergonomics is "the science of making the job fit the worker"; another is "the application of human sciences to the optimization of people's working environment".
Ergonomics seeks to improve the match between the job and man's physical abilities, information handling and workload capacities. The subject is synonymous with 'human factors engineering', a term used in North America. Its fundamental importance is recognised in the International Labour Organization, which defines ergonomics as:
"the application of the human biological sciences in conjunction with the engineering sciences to the worker and his working environment, so as to obtain maximum satisfaction for the worker which at the same time enhances productivity".
This definition emphasizes the important triad of ergonomic elements:
Thus ergonomics seeks to adapt work to human physical and psychological capabilities and limitations. In seeking this goal, it draws on many disciplines including:
The value of ergonomics
The value of ergonomics is easily understood by anyone who has tried to do a job using the wrong tools. The increased difficulty causes the job to take longer, leading to frustration and loss of temper. This in turn leads to use of excessive force and increases the risk of a slip of the hand and injury. In the wider world of industry and commerce, such problems arising from poor design of jobs, machines or workplaces may lead to large-scale inefficiencies, risk taking, increase in accidents and 'near-misses' and increases in absenteeism related to dissatisfaction with the job. Knowledge of ergonomics is of great value in preventing ill-health and injury from work, as well as in rehabilitating (e.g. someone with back pain). For example, personal protective equipment will not generally be used unless it is acceptable to employees, by fitting comfortably and not interfering unduly with the task for which it is needed.
Ergonomics will in due course be considered in more detail with special reference to the following issues:
- 'Manual handling'
- Display screen equipment work stations, such as in offices
The consequences of poor ergonomic planning or practice
These can include a range of musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain, or other problems such as so called repetitive strain injury or cumulative trauma disorder (RSI CTD).
Acknowledgement: Part of this page has been adapted, with permission, from Practical Occupational Medicine © Arnold publishers.