If that mop handle, digital camera or baby stroller labeled “ergonomic” leaves you with aches, pains or the question, “ergonomic for whom?” you may have hit on one of the more erroneous marketing claims of the 21st century: just because a product claims to be ergonomic, that doesn’t mean it actually is.
It happens all the time. Well-meaning manufacturers add a cushioned handle or a curvaceous shape to an existing tool and, voila, it’s “ergonomic.” But really making a product “ergonomic” takes much more. That’s just one of the concepts the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) wants to help make consumers more aware of this October during National Ergonomics Month.
Ergonomics, as well as Human Factors, says HFES, can make the world safer and more efficient as well as making equipment, products and systems easier to use. User-friendly ergonomic designs take research, testing, and considerations far beyond just adding a curved handle, and that, unfortunately, says HFES, is what some manufacturers fail to realize.
For a product to truly be ergonomic, user anthropometry, work space design, task and usage as well as human capabilities have to be considered by the designer or manufacturer. A pair of “ergonomic” scissors may be designed in small, medium and large to accommodate user anthropometry but they may still require too much effort to be operated comfortably by some of their potential users. In other words, they may not be ergonomic for everyone.
While finding an ergonomic product may not be as simple as just reading a label, consumers can follow a few simple guidelines to determine if the product they’re interested in has ergonomic features that work for them. If the product results in a reduction of risk factors like forceful exertions, awkward postures, repetitive exertions, and exposure to environmental factors like extreme heat, cold, humidity or vibration, then it was probably designed with ergonomics in mind.
In raising the awareness of ergonomics during National Ergonomics Month, HFES is offering ideas for educators, reporters and HFES members on its website (https://www.hfes.org) to help them get the word out about ergonomics and human factors. The goal? To introduce ten million adults, or approximately three percent of the population in the United States, to human factors and ergonomics by the year 2010, and to make students and adults more aware of the effect ergonomics can have on their work and home lives. And that includes educating people about the benefits of ergonomic product design.