“Designing in” workplace ergonomics is viewed as an integral part of an effective ergonomics process. Non-office workplace environments are constantly changing – and new ergonomics challenges are often introduced when new products or manufacturing methods are rolled out, and when workplaces are being modified to improve productivity and quality issues.
Luckily, companies have discovered that the right considerations, at the right time in the workplace design and selection process can minimize or eliminate the introduction of new ergonomics issues. Often times, this can be done at little or no added cost – and there are numerous examples of how “designing in ergonomics” has resulted in greatly improved productivity and quality.
Step 1: Understand the Design Process
The first step to making sure ergonomics is “designed in” is simply to understand the design process – what happens, in what sequence, and who is responsible. For example, in one company’s Advanced Manufacturing Engineering (AME) process, Advanced Engineers are responsible for selecting the equipment and tools that go into new assembly lines in their factories. Their process has several steps, such as identifying challenges in current operations with similar products, developing a conceptual design for the new assembly line, defining detailed designs of each new tool or equipment being ordered, and performing runoffs at equipment suppliers to verify the new tools and equipment meet performance specifications.
Step 2: Align Ergonomics with Key Points in the Design Process
The second step to “designing in” ergonomics is to align ergonomics consideration with the information available at key points in the design process. For our AME example, the following activities might make sense for the Advanced Engineers to build into their existing steps:
- Review injury logs and incident reports to identify jobs and tasks associated with ergonomics issues, and add project goals to eliminate them in new designs
- Ensure that detailed designs are confirmed to meet ergonomics design guidelines prior to ordering new tools and equipment
- Ensure that new tools and equipment are at an acceptable level of ergonomics risk during runoffs
Step 3: Train Designers and Engineers
The third step to making sure ergonomics is “designed in” is to train the people involved in design and engineering to assess and improve ergonomics. The training and assessment tools will be different depending on the stage of design they are responsible for. For our example:
- Plant-based staff should be able to assess current operations to identify workplace design issues that contribute to unacceptable levels of ergonomics risk
- Product designers should be able to apply ergonomics design guidelines related to their product, and make design changes to meet the guidelines.
- Advanced Engineers should be able to apply ergonomic design guidelines related to tools and equipment, and specify changes to meet the guidelines.
Step 4: Create Accountability
Formalizing the “design in” ergonomics process with specified roles and responsibilities helps make this a sustainable system. The roles and responsibilities should not be overly complicated or cumbersome, and individuals and teams should know their roles and responsibilities, and be accountable for carrying out the requirements.
“Designing in” workplace ergonomics doesn’t have to be difficult. Finding a few key leverage points, engaging the people who can make a difference, providing appropriate tools and training, and ensuring accountability is a good practice most companies can achieve.
For more proven workplace ergonomics improvement ideas, read Ergoweb’s latest 14-page eBook, 5 Essential Elements for a Successful Ergonomics Process.
Note: This is a preview of a talk Mike Wynn will deliver at the 2020 Applied Ergonomics Conference.