The History and Benefits of Ergonomics


How more efficient movement and better-designed furniture can reduce injury and increase productivity.



The Oxford dictionary defines ergonomics as the study of the efficiency of persons in their working environment. But ergonomics is much more than that. The word ergonomics, coined by biologist Wojciech Jastrzebowski in 1857, has come to mean the creation and use of office equipment that increases productivity by increasing human comfort. And there is a wealth of statistics to prove its success.


The worker's disease


Proof of a link between profession and musculoskeletal injuries has existed for centuries. In 1713, Italian physician Bernardino Ramazinni wrote in his book De Morbis Artificum, or Diseases of Workers, that workers "are injured by certain violent and irregular motions and unnatural postures of the body [that impair] the natural structure of the vital machine."


The problem continues to this day. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, states that musculoskeletal disorders are responsible for 1/3 of all occupational injuries and illnesses reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unnatural positions and repetitive movements are responsible for such conditions as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, and the prevalence of troubling acronyms such as CTD (cumulative trauma disorders) and RSI (repetitive stress injury).


The proof is in the productivity


The tragic irony of such injuries is that they are caused by workplace equipment and procedures that don't merely promote injuries—they also decrease productivity.


Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were two of the pioneers of early 20th century ergonomics. Gilbreth and his wife introduced the use of film for micro-motion study, and in one instance, they were able to reduce the number of bricklaying motions from 18 to 4.5. Not only did this innovation greatly reduce stress, but it also boosted the bricklaying rate from 120 to 350 bricks per hour.


In our contemporary computer-based office environments, similar studies have focused on the use of ergonomic office chairs, ergonomic computer aids, and ergonomic footrests and mats to ease stress and improve productivity. The results are overwhelming. Here's a small sample:


• A study by the University of Texas Health Science Center and Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that an ergonomic chair and ergonomics training yielded a 17.8% increase in office productivity. The tested employees also showed lower musculoskeletal symptoms than the two control groups.


• NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has conducted numerous studies in non-ergonomic office environments. They concluded that nearly 40% of the variance in discomfort at various body sites was explainable by workplace ergonomics.


• A Cornell University study found that use of an ergonomic computer keyboard produced significant health benefits for employees' necks, shoulders, upper and lower backs, lower arms, and hands. A similar study by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society found that ergonomic office chairs, ergonomic keyboard platforms, and ergonomics training reduced musculoskeletal symptoms by an average of 40%.


The solution: ergonomic office equipment


It's clear that ergonomic office chairs with such features as articulating arms are worth the cost. Not only does ergonomic office equipment increase productivity, but it also combats the workplace stress injuries that can lead to increased health care costs for employers and insurance companies.


Ergonomic office chairs, keyboard platforms, and ergonomic computer aids are contemporary workplace necessities. Even ergonomic footrests and mats have been found to reduce foot swelling and tendon and joint problems that can lead to rheumatic disorders.


Ergonomics has existed for 150 years. It's time your company discovered the benefits of increased health and productivity that ergonomics has been proven to provide.


--Joshua Avram

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