From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Avoiding Common Errors

Dan MacLeod, CPE, MA, MPH

Good application of the information on this site generally requires adaptation to fit the circumstances of each workplace (see Cautions). The following list provides additional ways to help make sure that you avoid common errors in resolving ergonomics issues.

Involve the end user

Many tasks involve complexities and nuances that can only be known by doing the job for a period of time. A common mistake is to implement a change without taking into account the user’s knowledge of these complexities. Thus, including the end user one way or another in the evaluation process helps to make the task improvement better. Note that there are multiple ways for this involvement, including one-on-one discussions in the work area, small group meetings (such as during a safety talk), and written questionnaires. (See Workplace ergonomics process.)

Understand your underlying objective

Sometimes you can be led astray by a solution that may be appropriate in some cases, but not others. To avoid this, make sure you understand your underlying objective, which is usually one of the basic principles of ergonomics.

A good example is the wrist rest for a computer mouse. Wrists rests are very common and usually a good thing. But the objective is not to make sure every computer user has a wrist rest. The objective is to keep the wrist straight. (See Principle 1: Posture.) A person with a large hand and a small mouse may not need a wrist rest.

To help readers focus correctly, each pages identifies underlying objectives and provides links to the most commonly affected principles. These objectives are often redundant with the underlying principles, but usually restated in terms of the context. Sometimes listing the objective may appear self-evident, but in depending upon the problem being considered and the experience of the reader, it may not always so.

Confusing a rule of thumb for a hard and fast requirement

There are many rules of thumb in ergonomics, as there are in almost any applied field, and often there are exceptions. Understanding the basic principles of ergonomics should help you keep everything straight.

Consider unintended consequences

Ergonomics is no different from any other aspect of engineering or design. You should not apply concepts blindly without regard to implications. Most of the time you need to keep in mind multiple perspectives as you identify and refine options for improvement — safety hazards, environmental waste, product damage, etc.


There is a common tendency when evaluating a problem to quickly think of two or three possible solutions, then focus on one of those. In reality, there may be dozens of possible solutions. Sometimes it is the 25th or 26th idea that is raised which turns out to be the most effective and least costly. This website is designed to promote the idea that there can be multiple possible options for improvement.

Analysis versus quantification.

Conducting an “ergonomics task analysis” can sound forbidding, but it doesn’t need to be, especially for common workplace problems. Analysis just means “taking a whole and breaking it into its subparts.” It’s the opposite of synthesis, which means “combining parts into a whole.” So an ergonomics task analysis involves (1) breaking a task into separate steps, (2) determining which ergonomics issues might be affected at each step, and (3) which part of the body is affected. A good analysis can be very simple, perhaps with a simple checklist (but even that is not necessary for knowledgeable people). In most common situations, quantification is NOT required and no sophisticated formal tools are needed. To be sure, these tools can be very important in some situations, so the issue is really picking the right tool for the right job.

A very effective approach to analysis is simply to watch a video clip of a task in a conference room with a group of people, perhaps including the employees in the video clips. With some previous training in the principles of ergonomics, it usually is possible in these settings to spot issues that go unnoticed on the workplace floor. Watching a video clip also helps the brainstorming process.

Keep it simple

The best solutions are often (but not always!) the simplest and easiest to use. It is often helpful to go out of your way to focus on low tech approaches:

  • What can you make in-house vs. purchase?
  • If you were in your shop at home, what would you do?
  • What can you rig up just using materials at hand?
  • If you were a Connecticut Yankee inventor in 1820 (before electricity) what would you do?

These questions don’t necessarily lead to the solutions that are implemented, but thinking this way helps you to keep it simple. Of course sometimes, the best solution can be complicated, high tech, and require some financial investment. The point is to take steps to focus on simple solutions to keep costs low and avoid getting bogged down in long planning and procurement processes.