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The History and the Future of Office Ergonomics

The History and the Future of Office Ergonomics

Those of us who work in an office are familiar with the toll that aches and pains of repetitive tasks and bad posture can take. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study ergonomics in the office.

The goal is to eliminate disorders, reduce stress, and decrease injuries that occur with repetition, overuse of muscles, and poor posture. The result is designing tasks, workspaces, controls, displays, tools, lighting, and equipment that conform to physical capabilities and limitations. In other words, NIOSH has our best interests in mind when it comes to being healthy in the workplace.

Where Did Office Ergonomics Start?

The term ergonomics originally comes from the Greek words ergon (work or labor) and nomos (natural laws). The fact that the word ergonomics was coined by a Polish scholar, Wojciech Jastrzębowski, in 1857 became widely known when his book in Polish was reprinted with English translation in 1997.

Ergonomics, as defined by the Board of Certification for Professional Ergonomists (BCPE), “is a body of knowledge about human abilities, human limitations and human characteristics that are relevant to design. Ergonomic design is the application of this body of knowledge to the design of tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for safe, comfortable and effective human use” (BCPE, 1993).

The following points are among the purpose/goals of ergonomics:

  • Occupational injury and illness reduction
  • Workers’ compensation costs containment
  • Productivity improvement
  • Work quality improvement
  • Absenteeism reduction
  • Government regulation compliance

The methods by which these goals are obtained involve:

  • Evaluation and control of work site risk factors
  • Identification and quantification of existing work site risk conditions
  • Recommendation of engineering and administrative controls to reduce the identified risk conditions
  • Education of management and workers to risk conditions

Where is the Future of Ergonomics Heading?

It’s in everyone’s best interest, both you and your employer, to apply ergonomics in the workplace, because poor working conditions result in physical aches and pains and have an adverse impact on your productivity. Some employers may even take the extra step to consult directly with a professional ergonomics specialist to analyse distinct working conditions and make recommendations. A partnership with the professionals, employers, and staff can help redesign the workplace to meet the needs of every employee.

Implementing an ergonomic plan doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavour. There are countless low-cost interventions for small and medium-sized companies without extensive resources to dedicate to employee health. For instance, awareness of your work environment is as essential as gaining control over your surroundings, such as adjusting lighting levels and obtaining user-friendly chairs. Control and information go a long way to decreasing stress levels. The end result is an enhanced return on investment for your health and your employer’s bottom line.


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