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What is Ergonomics?

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Ergonomics is a term that is foreign to most people. The most common understanding of ergonomics relates to the office setting and usually involves the chair or keyboard. The office setting does fall into the realm of ergonomics but it is just one piece. The International Ergonomics Association formally defines ergonomics or human factors (these words are interchangeable) as:

Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and other methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

Another simpler definition is fitting the work space and task to the humans. My definition of ergonomics is the essential design factor to make workspaces efficient, maximize productivity and ensure human comfort. Ergonomics at its core is about using design-space, equipment and workflow-to fit the task performed and the persons who do the task. If something is designed well it should fit (you) "like a glove".

Ergonomics surrounds you every day, you just don't even think about it. Think about the vehicle you drove today. Did you find the seat comfortable? Were the speed and engine rpm dials easy to see? Were the controls for the sound system and heating/cooling intuitive to use? If you answer yes to each of these questions then your vehicle would be considered to have good ergonomics-it fits you. In this instance you probably don't think to yourself "this car has great ergonomics". You just feel comfortable and don't even think about dial displays and how to use the knobs and buttons for the radio. It just comes naturally.

Now think about the last time you were a passenger in an airplane. Did you find the seat comfortable? Did reclining the seat make it better? I have yet to hear someone tell me they find airplane seats to be comfortable. Why is this? It's because the seat lacks adjustments to fit you. In this instance you probably don't think "this seat has poor ergonomics", most likely you think the seat is "uncomfortable".

What about the environment where you work? Is you use a computer most likely you are in an office or a cubicle. How comfortable is your workstation? Or if you work for a manufacturer, how does your workstation fit you? Do the tools fit your hand? Is the work surface at a comfortable height for you? How you answer these questions will tell you about the ergonomics of your workspace-good or bad.

There's more to ergonomics but this will give you a good idea about what ergonomics (or human factors) is all about. Are there consequences from good or bad ergonomics? Absolutely! In upcoming blogs, we'll explore these issues, especially how it relates to business and the bottom line.

{ Kelby Ergo Design is a full service workplace ergonomics consulting firm. We deliver real-world solutions that impact the quality, safety and productivity in the environments where people work. KED believes that people are what make productivity happens. For more information contact us: or 612.454.1432. }