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The Science behind Ergonomic Design


Consider our friend and loyal coworker, Assembly Jane. Sheís been a hard worker for an assembly company for a while now, but recently, sheís noticed a pain in her hand. At first, she didnít think much of it, but now itís starting to affect her work. When she reaches for a tool on the top shelf, or when she picks something out of the parts cup thatís just out of armís reach, sheís in immense pain. These are common symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, which are incredibly prevalent in the workplace. Theyíre usually due to an absence of ergonomics in the design process and actually easily preventable with the right planning.

The first step in designing an ergonomic workspace is understanding that the work must fit the worker; the worker shouldnít be forced into fitting the job. This can be accomplished most effectively by planning ahead in the design process. When choosing a work bench, a desk, or any work space, itís so important to envision the employee working there; consider what tasks she will be doing, the range of motion needed to accomplish these tasks, what necessary tools should be easily accessible, etc. By visualizing the worker at the station and preparing for all circumstances in the design stage, the end result will be much more successful.

While crafting the work station itself, ergonomic standards must be considered. First and foremost is the worksurface height. This aspect, like the large majority of ergonomics, depends on the userís unique physical build in relation to the type of work being done on the worksurface. However, in order to implement the perfect surface height, the designer must take into account the working height. Itís important to note the difference between surface height Ė where the table top is Ė and working height Ė where the task at hand is being worked on. For instance, if Assembly Jane is assembling larger products, the surface height should be lower than Assembly Joeís, who works on fine detail assembly, in order to accommodate for their respective working heights. The best way to account for all work tasks, statures, and variability between them is through adjustable workstations, like the Standard Pro Series from IAC Industries. Not only will it adjust to fit the worker, it can adjust to fit the task. In order to adapt to everyoneís needs, Back Designs, Inc. recommends adjustable worksurface heights should have a range from 22 to 33 inches off the ground.

Another variable in surface height depends on whether the user is sitting, standing, or both. Itís no secret that sitting all day is bad for you. Itís also true that standing all day is not sensible and actually has its own health drawbacks like fatigue. Having a sit and stand workstation allows a range of movement that is vital to health in the workplace. For this type of workstation, the optimal range should be between 22 and 47 inches in height. More importantly though, the height is dependent on the work and the worker, and it should provide a good base for other workspace features to create an overall ergonomic environment.

On that note, itís important to understand that all aspects of the workspace must be considered in the design stages; itís not just the workstation that needs to be ergonomic. The seating, the lighting, the tools, and more should be designed in a comfortable and safe way to maximize productivity and efficiency. For example, the seating in conjunction with the workbench should allow proper angles for legs, arms, wrists, and the back. The lighting should prevent glares, reflections, and shadows so as to prevent eye fatigue and headaches. The tools should be easy to handle and avoid too much force or repetitive motions. Moreover, they should be easily accessible, preferably within armís reach, and should not require awkward or uncomfortable body movements. Ultimately, the ergonomics of a workstation is going to be different for all types of work. Sitting, standing, sitting and standing, even mobile stations, and regular old office desks are all going to have different recommended designs to fit the worker, but in the end, itís essential to recognize the role ergonomics plays in these designs and, at the end of the day, the success of a company.

To learn more about why ergonomics is worth investing in, check out this page.