Ergonomics troubleshooters take aim at workers' pain.


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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