What is Ergonomics? Ergonomics is the study of the kind of work you do, the environment you work in, and the tools you use to do your job.
Why are ergonomics important? Ergonomics can help you be more comfortable at work. It can help lower stress and injury caused by awkward positions and repetitive tasks, whether you sit at a desk, stand at an assembly line, or use heavy equipment outdoors.
The association between occupations and musculoskeletal injuries was documented centuries ago. Bernardino Ramazinni wrote about work-related complaints that he saw in his medical practice in 1713.
Wojciech Jastrzebowski, a Polish scholar, created the word “ergonomics” in 1857, combing the Greek words ergon (work or labor) and nomos (natural laws).
Scientific Management, an ergonomic method that improved worker efficiency by improving the job process, became popular in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Frederick W. Taylor was a pioneer of this approach and evaluated jobs to determine the “One Best Way” they could be performed.
For example, at Bethlehem Steel Taylor dramatically increased worker production and wages in a shoveling task by matching the shovel with the type of material that was being moved (ashes, coal or ore).
World War II prompted greater interest in human-machine interaction as the efficiency of sophisticated military equipment (i.e., airplanes) could be compromised by bad or confusing design.
After World War II, the focus of concern expanded to include worker safety as well as productivity.
Areas of knowledge that involved human behavior and attributes (i.e., decision making process, organization design, human perception relative to design) became known as cognitive ergonomics or human factors.
Areas of knowledge that involved physical aspects of the workplace and human abilities such as force required to lift, vibration and reaches became known as industrial ergonomics or ergonomics.