Ergonomics: Fitting the Work to the Worker

Man sits at a computer in a makeshift cubicle made out of cardboard

Do you sometimes feel like a square peg in a round hole? In the kitchen or at work, do you feel like things are just a little too high or a little too low? Pretty frustrating, isn’t it? Maybe your partner is quite a bit taller or shorter than you, do you get in arguments about where to put things? How do you compromise and “split the difference?” 

Let’s address some of those frustrations and take a moment to talk about what are the tolerances of a human being. 90 percent of the population is 5'1" to 6'2" so most work surfaces, equipment, tools,  and spaces are designed to fit that range.  Even  clothing for people  outside that range becomes labelled extra tall or petite.

Designing from the human perspective is relatively new. If you walk around a very old home, you may have noticed the doors are very short because there wasn’t really a standard when it was built. Now that we have standards, 99.9 percent of the population can go through doors without ducking.

Standardization really took off with the Department of Defense looking at tool, equipment, and aircraft design issues (in World War II American screws, bolts, and nuts did not fit British equipment properly and were not fully interchangeable). Today there are subtle inroads to human design, or ergonomics, everywhere you look. Driving down the interstate, you'll spot a green and silver sign because that's the best unlit colors for the human eye to see.

Within the workplace, we need to continuously look at what are the tasks at hand and what are the critical demands of the job. How do we measure worker interactions and are they outside the range of tolerance for a human being? If things aren’t designed for humans, we need to look at changing the process and possibly even automating it.

With good ergonomics we want the work to fit the worker, not the other way around. If you sit down at a workstation or desk or sit in a new vehicle and you don’t adjust anything, then you have to adapt yourself to the machine or tool.  This creates awkward postures and awkward reaches. The tool should fit you, just like your car. You adjust the seat, you adjust the mirror, you prepare yourself to drive so that you can safely see and steer and reach the pedals in a comfortable position. If you are afraid to speak up or make adjustments, then you may be exposing yourself to unsafe situations and blind spots.

If you want to go more in depth on this topic, read more ergonomics safety blogs from MEMIC and stay tuned for the Safety Experts Podcast that MEMIC is launching in November.