From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Leveraging Ergonomic Design Guidelines

Effective ergonomics processes emphasize both improvement and prevention – reducing ergonomics risks in existing operations while ensuring the ergonomics acceptability of new products and equipment.  Ergonomic design guidelines play a key role in both.

ergonomic design guidelinesErgonomic design guidelines provide specifications for meeting ergonomic design principles.  They are typically formatted in a checklist with criteria that designers or engineers, with very little ergonomics training, can apply to new designs for products, equipment, or tools.  Typically, they focus on factors that can be addressed without observing workers in the workplace, such as:

  • Manual force requirements
  • Hand tool design factors
  • Work heights
  • Reach distances
  • Hand and body clearances

Ergonomics analysis tools, in contrast, are intended to evaluate the ergonomics risk of existing operations.  They can better account for aspects of worker movements such as awkward postures and repetitive motion, and most importantly, can address the ergonomics risk of a complex work environment.  Ergonomic analysis tools include both screening surveys and deep dive analyses, and substantial ergonomics training is usually recommended to ensure accuracy. Download Ergoweb’s Guide to Picking the Best Ergo Analysis Tool for the Job for more information on ergo analysis tools.

A best practice for ergonomic design guidelines is to format them to enable ergonomics novices to easily determine if a new product, equipment, or tool meets the specifications.  They must be able to understand how to measure the design for the relevant criteria, and interpret if the design meets the guideline, without a human worker being present.. Here are a couple examples of good and poorly formatted ergonomic design guidelines:

Good FormatBad Format
Present parts no lower than 22” from the standing surfacePresent parts to enable worker access with minimal back bending
Maximum 60 in-lb torque reaction force for pistol grip hand tools without a torque control reactionary deviceProvide torque reaction bars when excessive torque reaction force is present
Maximum 16” from edge of work surface to work area except for infrequent (< 5% of task) activitiesKeep primary work areas within a 20” reach from worker

Using Ergonomics Design Guidelines to Improve Existing Operations

Improving existing operations generally follows these steps once a potential ergonomics issue is identified in a job or task:

  • Conduct an ergonomics assessment
  • Develop workplace solutions that should reduce ergonomics risk
  • Evaluate and prioritize potential ergonomics improvements
  • Implement ergonomics improvements and confirm effectiveness

Ergonomic design guidelines fit into the final step.  Once you have selected the workplace improvements that make sense, you need to specify exactly what you want, and ergonomics design guidelines provide the criteria to clearly communicate what and how the improvements should be implemented.  Without the ergonomics design criteria spelled out, you run the risk of solutions being carried out incorrectly. Here are a few examples of ergonomics improvements with clear criteria:

  • Install a platform so that parts bins are located to present parts at least 22” from the standing surface
  • Replace the pistol grip hand tool with one that creates less than 60 in-lb of torque reaction force
  • Reposition the fixture so that the work piece is located no more than 16” from edge of work surface

Applying Design Guidelines to Prevent Problems with New Products and Equipment

New products and manufacturing processes are usually developed using a stage gate review process. Typical design development stages are:

  • Concept
  • Preliminary design
  • Detailed design
  • Prototype
  • Pilot build

Ergonomics design guidelines fit into the stage gate reviews for the preliminary design, detailed design, and prototype stages.  Often times, there is insufficient information at the concept stage to evaluate if ergonomics design criteria will be met, and at the pilot build stage, it makes more sense to conduct an ergonomics assessment to determine if the design is acceptable.

In many companies, specifying new tools and lower cost equipment generally does not follow a stage gate review process.  Rather, items are identified and an EHS design review occurs before they are procured. Best practice is to educate the individuals who identify the tools and equipment (engineers, maintenance, supervisors) in the ergonomics design criteria, and then evaluate their selections against the guidelines during the EHS design review.

For additional information on how to ensure the acceptability of new tools and equipment, download Ergoweb’s free 14 page guide, 5 Essential Elements of a Successful Ergonomics Process.