Ergonomics troubleshooters take aim at workers' pain.

 
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Stephen Randall was walking down the hall one day when an employee stopped him to say, "I had the best day I've ever had today because I had a tool that was sharp."

But Randall's not a tool sharpener. He's the ergonomics program manager for Northern Telecom Inc. Ergonomics concentrates on making sure that someone's job is not a pain in the, uh, anywhere.

"Sure I'm a pain buster, but ergonomics works best when you don't even know it's there," says Randall. He was hired in 1985 by the Nashville, Tenn.-based manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, whose parent company is headquartered in Canada.

Among manufacturers, ergonomics is hot and getting hotter, says M.A. Ayoub, a professor of industrial engineering at N.C. State University. Despite its cerebral-sounding name (from the Greek words ergos for work and nomos for law), "ergonomics is a common-sense approach to work," Ayoub says.

One study that looked at 6,000 industrial workers from the Carolinas and Texas found that a third of them went home hurting. Within 72 hours after work stations had been modified, only 1 percent of those workers still faced...

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