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Cecil Nurse: Ergonomic Considerations For The Design Stage

Workspaces are changing quickly as yesterday’s cube farms become today’s open concepts.  It’s important to evolve and keep current, but also to ensure that technology and aesthetics still provide function and reflect basic ergonomic principles.

In fact, ergonomics can optimise both human performance and the use of technology for improved efficiencies and reduced costs.  That is, costs associated with injuries, lost time, insurance claims and generally wasteful work layouts and methods. When designing a workplace, it’s important to consider aspects of ergonomics, productivity and accessibility.

Don’t miss a step; remember the A, E, I, O, U’s: ASSESS It’s ill advised to jump into the new without understanding what is functioning or broken of the old. Perform a basic ergonomic hazard assessment to quickly ascertain what element/s of a job are causing productivity, quality or comfort issues. Ergonomic issues are often a by-product of poor layout, wasteful processes, improper or inappropriate equipment and bad worker habits.  Progressing into any design without understanding these basic elements can be costly and often breeds non-confidence and frustration among staff. EVALUATE After completing the assessment, determine which of the identified hazards are problematic and diminish the human ability to perform effectively.  Anthropometrics, a study of measurements and proportions of the human body, should be a first line of defence when looking at design. When used effectively, anthropometrics can reduce or completely engineer many hazards out of workspace designs, layouts and equipment use.

It’s the only way to ensure that the design will fit the workforce, the space and the task. It is important to thoroughly investigate when ideas are still on paper and thus relatively easy to modify, which can save time and money and prevent potential injuries from occurring.

INVESTIGATE Look at what other companies are doing to mitigate their design concerns.  It’s possible to avoid many unforeseen pitfalls by networking and collaborating with organisations and professionals that have gone through similar processes.

OPTIMISE Advances in technology can help reduce some of the frustrating disconnects that arise when addressing the limits of the human body.  Employees can only work so fast, lift so much and adjust their posture within a specific range of motion; outside of that, programs, equipment and furnishings can bridge the gap.  For example, the use of electric or pneumatic lift tables, carts and manual handling devices allows 100% of employees to complete tasks comfortably, at their precise ergonomic working height, without compromising safety and comfort. Proactively assess hazards and inefficiencies to deploy controls that will improve ergonomic principles, work flows and productivity before the design negatively impacts staff.  For example, a work flow that requires employees to repeatedly handle a product could be streamlined to a single touch point to reduce handling and create a leaner, more efficient use of a worker’s time.

UTILISE Reach out to those who can help.  It’s prudent to use internal and external resources during the design phase, so as to avoid repeating errors and incurring unnecessary costs. Involve key stakeholders, including employees, to understand issues that only an expert at the task would know to be able to provide effective solutions.  This low-cost step has the additional benefit of promoting corporate buy-in and improved management-staff relations. (Adapted from an article by Alexandra Stinson – CCPE – Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist).

Contact: Cecil Nurse

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