What is Industrial Ergonomics?

In recent years, it seems that ergonomics has become sort of a “buzz word.”  I see everything labeled as “ergonomic” these days from chairs, to shoes and even dog toys.  Let’s face it, this word sounds “fancy” and it is utilized by marketing professionals to create the impression that their product is cutting edge. 

What does Ergonomics even Mean?

This is the definition from the Meriam-Websters Dictionary: an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.

Industrial ergonomics is basically means applying those same principals to an industrial setting. Ok, now that we have that defined, let’s talk a little but about industrial ergonomics and how it can benefit companies. We will also talk about how industrial ergonomics, if not applied in the correct manner, will provide little benefit to a company. Lastly, we will discuss how to implement a successful ergonomic program.

Benefits

I will not spend a lot of time discussing this as I think we can all see the benefits of studying a workstation and making improvements to allow people to interact most efficiently and safely.  This will help reduce work related injuries, improve productivity and improve the work experience of employees. However, everything I just mentioned is much easier said than done.

Let’s get Real

If you have ever been involved in an ergonomic initiative, you may still be wondering if all of the work you put in, the committees you setup and the money you spent actually paid off. It is a very real possibility to spend thousands off dollars bringing in an “expert” consultant who leaves you with a stack of reports that basically say: “you have problems.”  You think to yourself, “I already knew this.  Why did I pay you all of this money to tell me something I already know?”  As you begin to look through the reports, you see ergonomic control recommendations, but most of them are either A) unrealistic or B) too expensive to carry out. There may be a few control recommendations that look like a possibility, but you are not sure where to start.  The “expert” you brought in has moved on to the next job and has left you worrying about the implementation process.  You are busy with other job requirements and tell yourself that you will implement ergonomic initiatives next quarter.  You set up a meeting with the engineering department, maintenance staff and the managers to discuss what you want to do.  They all roll their eyes because their departments have their own demands and you are just adding to it. Six months pass by, then a year, and the ergonomic initiative has fizzled, along with thousands of dollars.  Sound familiar?

So, what should I do?

It is important to understand that ergonomics is just one piece of the employee wellness puzzle.  You can have all the best ergonomic controls and processes in place, but if there is little support from team members, there will be little reduction in work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).  I have provided a list below of strategies that will ensure a successful program:

  1. Team members need to be educated on the importance of these controls and practices and understand the benefit of them. 
  2. Ergonomic interventions need to be realistic, affordable and should not negatively impact production. 
    1. The fastest way to lose support of your ergonomic initiative is to negatively impact production.  
  3. The “expert” performing the ergonomic assessments should not be “in-and-out.”  This means after the work is analyzed and recommendations are made, this individual must also oversee the implementation of these recommended controls.
    1. This will ensure that the job gets done in a timely manner and in the way that it was intended. 
  4. Your ergonomic expert should also be involved in your injury prevention program. 
    1. If you are not sure what an injury prevention program is, read my post titled “MUUV Well: An Injury Prevention Program.” 

Following these simple concepts will enable you to enact an initiative that is effective and is supported by team members. If done correctly, such a program will show positive return on investment which will gain the support of managers and ensure the sustainability of the program.

If I can be of any assistance to you or if you have any questions, please connect with me by your favorite platform below.  I would love to start a conversation!

#MUUVWell,

Kevin Winn B.S., CIEE, CSCS, NSCA-CPT

Kevin is the Executive Director of HealthWorks Kinesiology and is a Certified Industrial Ergonomic Evaluator (CIEE), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist(CSCS) and a Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT).  Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Health Promotion from Louisiana Tech University.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *