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What is Ergonomics and Why is it Important?

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-Stephen Wolf: 925-785-3205,

-Kenneth Milliken: 925-785-3206,

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OSHA's Advantages of Ergonomics


Domains of Specialization                                                                                            

Derived from the Greek ergon (work) and nomos (laws) to denote the science of work, ergonomics is a systems-oriented discipline, which now applies to all aspects of human activity.  Practicing ergonomists must have a broad understanding of the full scope of the discipline, taking into account the physical, cognitive, social, organizational, environmental and other relevant factors.  Ergonomists often work in particular economic sectors or application domains.  These application domains are not mutually exclusive and they evolve constantly.  New ones are created; old ones take on new perspectives. Within the discipline, domains of specialization represent deeper competencies in specific human attributes or characteristics of human interaction:

  • Physical Ergonomics                                                                                                       

Physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomical, anthropometric, physiological and biomechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity.  The relevant topics include working postures, materials handling, repetitive movements, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, workplace layout, safety and health.           

  • Cognitive Ergonomics                                                                                                 

Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans and other elements of a system. The relevant topics include mental workload, decision-making, skilled performance, human-computer interaction, human reliability, work stress and training as these may relate to human-system design.

  • Organizational Ergonomics                                                                                        

Organizational ergonomics is concerned with the optimization of sociotechnical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes. The relevant topics include communication, crew resource management, work design, design of working times, teamwork, participatory design, community ergonomics, cooperative work, new work paradigms, organizational culture, virtual organizations, telework, and quality management. 


Ergonomics covers all aspects of a job, from the physical stresses it places on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones etc., to environmental factors which can effect hearing, vision, and general comfort and health.  Ergonomics is all about designing the job to fit the worker, not forcing the worker to fit the job. 

The five main principles of ergonomics are:

  • safety
  • comfort
  • ease of use
  • productivity and performance
  • aesthetics

Why is Ergonomics Important?
Ergonomics in the workplace can reduce the potential for accidents, injury and ill health and improve productivity and performance. Accidents can be reduced by through better design of controls. If, for example, a switch on a control board is switched on accidentally it may mean the switch should be moved to prevent accidental operation. This is ergonomics in action.

There are several ways you can identify an ergonomic problem, from simple observation and common sense through to risk assessment or simple checklists. We recommend several methods are used to cover all eventualities.

If you think you have identified an ergonomic problem there are several things you should do to solve it.

  • Look for causes and solutions. Minor alterations could make a big difference and do not need to be expensive.
  • Talk to employees and take suggestions from them. The workers actually performing the task usually have the best insights into how a job can be improved.
  • Ask a qualified ergonomics expert. 


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