Ergonomics – What is it and who is it for?

Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci
“Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci” by Hans Bernhard is licensed under GFDL-CC-BY-SA-all.

Ergonomics.  This is the new buzzword in corporates.  It’s been around for ages in the first world (Europe, Australia and the US).  In fact it’s even legislated overseas, that’s how important it is.  More and more it’s gaining traction here in South Africa and becoming a part of our health and safety culture.  So, what is it?

Simply put, ergonomics are involved when your physical environment is made to adapt to you, instead of you adapting to your physical environment.  No one size fits all.  We are all different.  We have different bodies made up of different size leg lengths, trunk lengths, arm lengths, hand and feet sizes.  We have different strength and flexibility capabilities.  We have different genders in the work place performing the same job, and all this will influence our ability to perform in our work environment.  The weight of a brick, box etc is constant, but our human factors involved in moving them are all different.  And these things need to be taken into account to optimize our productivity as well as our health.  The science of ergonomics does that.  It collates all the different human and environmental factors and looks for the best fit.  It’s not always perfect, but it’s better than all these factors being ignored.

When you use objects in your work environment, in order to apply ergonomic principles, your work environment needs to be adaptable and adjustable to the different humans engaging in it.  Think adjustable components rather than anything static (e.g. adjustable chairs, beds, car seats etc etc).

Read my post on driving posture and lower back pain. 

Be aware, however, that good biomechanics is also an important element to add to good ergonomics when you want to reduce the likely hood of you suffering any injury/pain caused by your interaction with your environment at home and at work.  What do I mean by good biomechanics?  I’m referring to the way that you USE your body when you work.  It doesn’t help that your work environment has been optimised to keep you safe, but you continue to use your body in its weakest movement patterns.  There are good and bad ways to move your body and these too need to be taken into account.  Taking lifting for example.  The way you use your body to lift an object is completely in your own hands.  You can use a good posture that makes you strong and keeps you safe, or you can use a sloppy, poor posture, that makes you weak and puts you at risk of an injury.

Read my post on how to use good posture to lift your children and avoid lower back pain.  

So, who is affected by this?  Well, everyone really: office workers, on the road salesmen and other drivers, delivery staff and warehouse workers, factory workers, farm workers, health carers, cleaners, housewives, parents etc..  Everyone is affected by ergonomics and the way that they use their bodies in their work and home environment.

In South Africa, awareness of ergonomics is slowly growing.  For too long we have underestimated the cost to society that poor ergonomics results in, such as lost productivity, injuries and medical costs.

So, how do we learn about and implement ergonomics for our daily lives?  Keep reading, I’ll cover this and more in future blog posts.