Ergonomics and Work System Design – May 24 Webinar Highlights

Studies show that the longer a company waits to implement ergonomic interventions, the more costly it becomes (Miles & Swift, 1998). By 20% of the way into the design process, typically 80% of the resources have been allocated; trying to influence a design at this stage is more difficult and more expensive. (But not as expensive as waiting for injuries to occur, and trying to fix the job reactively!) A proactive ergonomic approach, in a nutshell, means incorporating ergonomics as early in the job or product design process as possible.
The Association of Canadian Ergonomists hosted a workshop last week entitled “Getting Proactive – Approaches, Tools, and Metrics for Integrating Ergonomics into Work System Design”. The morning portion of the workshop, which we attended by webinar, included presentations by Patrick Neumann, Michael Greig, and Judy Village, on approaches and tools used to involve ergonomics in a company’s system process.
The presenters identified a disconnect between the ergonomist’s thinking and other professionals. Professionals like designers and engineers tend to focus on equipment and process, and sometimes don’t think about people when they are designing work spaces. Ergonomists are trained to think about people and how they work, but we often have trouble communicating in terms of design criteria. Ergonomists are supposed to have dual objectives when working: human wellbeing and system performance (IEA, 2000). We need to translate ergonomics recommendations into criteria that engineers can use. For instance, an engineer can’t easily use a guideline that states that the gasket wrench should not be used repetitively above shoulder height. However, a guideline that promotes gasket installation at heights between 95 and 120 cm high, might be more practical.
Often, designers and engineers have a high workload and time constraints. Providing specific information, and making it available and accessible at the time of need will help. If ergonomics requirements are too general, or too technical to obtain and understand, the design and engineering team will be unable to use the guidelines appropriately. When possible, ergonomists should try to add ergonomics criteria to the existing analyses tools used by engineering and design teams, instead of pushing their own tools.
Increasing productivity while maintaining the worker’s wellbeing are the main goals of ergonomics. This dichotomous process involves collaborating with workers, management, maintenance, health and safety, design, and engineering departments. Communication with each profession in an understandable language is the key to implementing a proactive ergonomic approach. At Taylor’d Ergonomics, our team is trained to apply ergonomics design guidelines. We can help to evaluate a proposed design, and provide practical recommendations that will ensure that your new workstations or equipment will optimise worker safety and productivity.

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