AuthorFraya Wagner-Marsh, Laurie Hillstrom

Page 259

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker. The term comes from the Greek words ergon, meaning "work," and nomoi, meaning "natural laws." The goal of ergonomics is apply scientific information about human capabilities and limitations to design of work environments, systems, and tools in order to make them as safe, comfortable, and efficient as possible. Ergonomics thus seeks to minimize the physical demands on workers and optimize system performance. An ergonomist is a scientist who studies physiological, psychological, and engineering design aspects of a job, including such factors as fatigue, lighting required, tools used, equipment layout, and placement of controls.


Although ergonomics officially came into being just 50 years ago, the principles have been understood for thousands of years. One just has to look at ancient hand tools to see how our ancestors intuitively understood the concept of physical fit. Even in the early 1900s, scientific management pioneers in time and motion study—such as the Gilbreths—experimented with the design of tools to find the most effective ways to do things. The real impetus for the foundation of ergonomics, however, came during World War I. The rapid development of new technology exceeded the limits of human capabilities in some instances. For example, poor design of controls and instruments in aircraft cockpits meant that pilots often made fatal mistakes.

Today, there are three main areas of specialization within the field of ergonomics: physical (the study of postures, movements, etc.); cognitive (the study of workload, stress, decision making, etc.); and organizational (the study of policies and processes). Experts recommend that companies apply the following basic principles of ergonomics when designing jobs:

workers should be able to adopt several different postures that are safe and comfortable

when workers must exert muscular force, they should be encouraged to use the largest possible muscle groups

whenever possible, workers should be able to perform regular work activities with their joints in the middle of the range of movement


With the increasingly automated workplace, ergonomics problems are relatively common. One growing area of concern for...

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