Ergonomics, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the scientific study of people at work. The study of ergonomics works to prevent injuries, and reduce stress and disorders linked to over use of muscles, repetitive tasks and poor posture. Continued work towards better tools, equipment and design of tasks, can help to increase efficiency. Ergonomics is a key factor in increased productivity as well as employee health and safety.
Early in the 1900’s production was still largely dependent on human power and motion. Ergonomic development became a means to improve worker output. Improving the job process, known as Scientific Management, became very popular around this time. Frederick W. Taylor, of Bethlehem Steel was a pioneer of the effort and matched the proper style of shovel to the type of material for which it was best suited (coal, ash or ore). This action reduced fatigue and dramatically increased worker production. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth made jobs more efficient and less fatiguing through time motion analysis and by standardizing tools, materials and the job processes. By applying this approach, the number of motions in bricklaying was reduced from 18 to 4.5 allowing bricklayers to increase their pace of laying bricks from 120 to 350 bricks per hour.
After World War II ergonomic focus shifted and began placing a greater emphasis on worker safety. Research began to see focus in the muscle force required to perform tasks, lifting and the compressive force characteristics to the discs of the lower back, as well as cardiovascular response to heavy labor. Fields of study that involved the physical aspects of the workplace and human capabilities such as force required to lift, vibration and reaches became known as industrial ergonomics or ergonomics.
Advances in these fields have become a necessary component of workplace growth and profitability. Firms specializing in ergonomics and workplace behaviors can be hired for analysis and direction for workplace improvements. The increase in quality of work, improved engagement and morale of employees and the reduction of lost workdays due to injury are invaluable in every industry.
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