When I first became an Ergonomist, people often confused “Ergonomics” with “Economics.” They are different terms, and different professions, but actually they are closely intertwined.
In a nutshell, “Ergonomics” is “The Study of Work.” Some people have described it as “designing processes, tools, and tasks that are within people’s physical abilities and limitations.” Some say it is about productivity and efficiency, others quality, others say performance, and yet others say safety.
Everyone is right.
Ergonomics is about the study of work. When I was a kid, my best friend, Dan Taylor, had a sign above his desk at his house, which read, “Work is fascinating. I can sit and watch it for hours and hours!” Dan grew up on a large farm, and I grew up on a ranch. We knew what hard work was. And is. A “break” in work on a rainy day was a relief during our adolescent summers.
Dan was right about “Work is fascinating.” For the past 28-years I have watched other people work, the tools they use, and the work methods they employ, as I have performed tens of thousands of workstation assessments in nearly every industry. It IS fascinating!
Ergonomics is also about designing processes, tools, and tasks that are within peoples’ physical abilities. I have seen thousands of jobs, processes (and even hotel rooms) that were designed to manufacture a process or meet an aesthetic goal, without consideration of the people who had to do the work to put the part together or clean the room. A person who has a 15-inch reach is not going to be able to reach something that is 25-inches away.
Ergonomics is also about efficiency, quality, performance and productivity. A person who has to make a 25-inch reach is not going to be as efficient as if that reach were 15-inches. A person who has to make that 25-inch reach is not going to be able to do as good a job as if the reach were only 15-inches. And a person who makes that extended reach is going to need more time to perform the task, versus if that reach were only 15-inches.
Reduced productivity and quality affect profitability.
Ergonomics is also about employee safety. If a person who has a 15-inch reach is required to consistently make the extended 25-inch reach, then they are going to be at risk for a work-related injury or illness.
And, yes, Ergonomics is also about economics. If a person takes extra time to perform a task, there is an added labor (and productivity) cost. If a person cannot do the job quite properly, there is a quality cost, or a negative guest-satisfaction rating. If a person is injured performing that task, then there are direct economic costs, not only to the company, but also to the injured employee.
Ergonomics is Quality. Ergonomics is Safety. Ergonomics is Performance. Ergonomics is Productivity. Ergonomics is Profitability. Ergonomics is Economics.
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