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Occupational Ergonomics

Saturday, January 15, 2011
By Anne Kramer

Using the broadest of definitions, the term "ergonomics" refers to the study of the laws governing the movements of the worker. "Occupational Ergonomics" therefore, is a specific field within the discipline of ergonomics which seeks to understand the interplay between the worker and his/her environment.

Particular types of workplaces and their conditions vary depending on the kind of work being performed. Construction workers operate in markedly different surroundings than do legal assistants, for example. Different still are the tools they use to perform their jobs. A bulldozer is an entirely different machine from a laptop computer.

Still, there are commonalities to be drawn between these two, and nearly every other kind of worker when discussing occupational ergonomics. Of primary concern to those studying occupational ergonomics are worker safety and productivity. Every aspect of the worker's daily tasks are analyzed to determine first how they can be made safer, and second, how this might improve productivity. Perhaps not surprisingly, the factors affecting the first oftentimes influence the second.

Some of the most common safety concerns addressed in occupational ergonomic studies include:

  • Repetitive Stress Injuries
  • Poor Illumination
  • Poor Ventilation
  • Slip/Fall & Tripping

In a 2002 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, employees suffering from Repetitive Stress Injuries incurred in the workplace took a median of 23 days off work, while those who experienced a slip, fall, or trip took seven, and those exposed to harmful substances took three. It is not difficult to imagine how occupational hazards play a significant role in dampening company productivity, and why management is usually concerned with obviating these dangers.

Administrative control has started to play a larger role in preventing occupational hazards as the study of occupational ergonomics has come to the forefront. It is now commonplace for managerial teams to require periodic breaks for employees whose jobs require repetitive motions. Job-specific training programs which include information on how to avoid job-related accidents are also now present in nearly every field. It seems as if these measures are working; according to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), the incidence of non-fatal, job-related incidents (i.e. occupational injuries) decreased 38% between 1998 and 2009.

Still, on the very front line of occupational hazard prevention is the worker. As he/she performs his/her daily tasks, it is of crucial importance not only to their own physical and financial well-being, but to that of the company for which they work as well, for them to take notice of those actions which may immediately, or with repeated engagement, harm themselves, or others around them.

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