Ergonomics? What is it and why is it important?

The world you spend your life in consists of products and items that people design to make our lives more comfortable, productive, and simpler. Yet sometimes, you can still run into objects that are different to function.

One example would be the washing machine with complicated instructions or a chair that offers poor lumbar support. Ergonomics is a study that focuses on solving these problems. Named after the Greek word “Ergo” and No Mas, which accumulatively means the “natural laws of work.”

Background

The study and work of Ergonomics are relatively new. In the early days of industrialization, manufacturers produced items without any concern for the consumer’s wellbeing, and as long as they got the job done, they passed into the market.  

Around the 1940s, people realized that you could do work more efficiently when the equipment was easier and safer to use. This led to the science of Ergonomics emerge. The crucial areas of Ergonomics focus on usability.  

Overall, an ergonomist’s job is to configure the products that the people use in a way that is compatible with the range of people using them. 

Ergonomics in the Workplace

Ergonomics is also a preventative and instrumental study for the workplace. This is because it helps injuries that are common to desk job workers. Since corporate employees tend to do the same work every day, this puts added stress on some parts of the muscle that they are overworking.

Mild, temporary injuries can turn into disabling injuries when you do not control them. Continuous exertion of one muscle group decreases blood flow in that region; with less blood flow in that area, sprains and strains are less likely to heal.

The simple act of sitting on a chair and tapping your fingers on a keyboard can result in contact stress when you do it repeatedly. Even though this may not seem like an excessive force or pressure, if you do it routinely, the frequency and duration can be the cause of exertion and overtime injury.

Below are some common symptoms that come from cumulative trauma disorder and repetitive strain.

• Pain, stiffness, and swelling in some of the common areas such as knees, back, hands, wrist, neck

• Tingling and numbness in the feet or hands

• Stabbing pains in the back, legs, or arms

• Weakness of the hands also refers to clumsy hands

To counter issues such as these, ergonomics can be incredible as it encourages jobs to reduce the everyday stresses that an office worker faces. One of the ways it does that is by improving equipment design. Any equipment that evokes workers to over-extend their bodies in a harmful way and maintain the bad posture for too long is unusable according to ergonomic standards.  

Ergonomics and Design

Every individual is of a different height, weight, ability, strength, and intellect. Therefore, an Ergonomist has to look at all aspects of product design to cater to each individual or worker.  

Understandability

Many gadgets and appliances have remarkable multitudes of features and options. This array of features can sometimes confuse the average user, and they will have trouble using it without an instruction manual. For some users, this can be entirely frustrating, and for the designer, it can be disappointing because it means many of the features on the machine are going to waste.  

To make things understandable and user-friendly, designers must consider the thought process and interpretation of the masses towards their products. A simple example of this would be traffic signals. When people look at red, they stop, and when they see green, they immediately understand that they have to go.

It also means designing so that people can perform obvious tasks on a product. For example, opening and closing door comes naturally to you. Much of its ease of use contributes to the markings that you find on that door. These markings indicate whether you have to push or pull.  

Another important design aspect is the layout. An ergonomist ensures that the layout of the features on a product is neat, visible, and comprehensible for an average user. Ergonomics is more crucial for specific locations and jobs.

For example, in the control room of a power plant or on the bridge of a container ship, the workers have no room for error or confusion. The signal and warnings must be easy and understandable. Any mishap can result in significant complications and disastrous repercussions.

Physical Fit

The physical fit between you and the synthetic structures and products affects you all the time, and you may not even notice it. Physical fit applies everywhere, from your clothes to the height of your shelves and the size of your doorway.  

It also determines how comfortable your furniture is. With the right physical fit, things tend to get easier to grip, handle and use. Our workspaces hence, need to fit us perfectly so that we can be most productive. If you are not working in comfortable surroundings, and have to adjust accordingly, then this accounts for a red flag in ergonomics.

If the types of machinery do not have controls and features that you cannot hold or reach, this will be problematic for the user and may lead to hazardous situations. If your machinery does not cater to your physical requirement, even something as simple as adjusting your car’s radio can lead to significant accidents.

Finding a Physical Fit

To match people’s physical stature with the products they use in their daily lives, ergonomists have to collect data on people’s average physical characteristics. This information is a derivative of anthropometry, which focuses on measuring humans and each of their physical dynamics.

Ergonomics texts aim to deduce different parts of a human’s body and characterize them in groups. Each population has an average height and weight, and so, each utility has to match the ergonomic population percentile.

For example, to design a seat that suits people of all heights and weights, the leg length of average shorter people comes into consideration. Similarly, the width of the hip of the largest group of people also comes into play when designing the chair’s width. 

This will contribute to a chair with a design that welcomes people of all shapes and sizes.

When you consider table height, a table where people do not have to arch their hands to get to their food is perfect for an ergonomist. Keep in mind that factors such as age, ethnicity, gender, and others influence the size of your body. People from different backgrounds will often have distinct body shapes. Therefore, an important consideration when designing furniture involves the nationality of the population.  

Biomechanics

Whenever you handle particular objects, you have to apply a certain amount of force to them. All things need to have resistance to a certain amount of force. Designers have to, therefore, study the biomechanics of the human body. For instance, if designers have to design a pedal mechanism, they need information that gives them a good idea of how much force people can apply with their legs from different angles.

Posture Control

One of the more common stresses of ergonomics is posture control and why many people think of chair design after they hear ergonomics. One of the most significant disadvantages of sitting on a chair for long hours is unhealthy stress on the spine.

Even if you try to maintain good posture and sit up straight, your body will likely get tired, and you will return to the slouch position. This is mainly because most desk workers do not have the abdominal strength to hold good posture.

Ergonomic Awareness

One way of overcoming the problems is by taking regular breaks. Hence, you have to make voluntary efforts and awareness to maintain your spine health if you work long hours sitting down. Another way you can counter health problems due to sitting, and standing utility is to apply ergonomics into your everyday life.

This means that you can adjust your seat or your desk in a way that does not disrupt your posture. Moreover, designers need to prioritize ergonomics in all of their new inventions. Designers need to have the ability to balance material cost, engineering options, along with the ergonomic information so that the product is compatible and safe to use for the consumer.

To Conclude

Your body is not a machine and has limitations, which is why we use tools. If a tool exempts you from alleviating your force and efforts, then it is not ergonomically suitable. Hence, the study of ergonomics ensures that the tools protect you and take the punishment so that you can perform essential tasks effortlessly.

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