From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Mainstreaming Ergonomics Into Popular Culture

Ergonomics has long suffered from a public relations problem.  Here’s my suggestion for fixing it: TV.  If television can take a mediocre singer and make him or her the buzz of the country, imagine what it can do for something as vital as people and their work lives.

“New, this Fall on TLC: “Total Ergonomics Makeover!”  A team of crack human factors experts completely re-do a dingy, cramped office for under $1,000,” with fancy chairs and flat panel displays provided by sponsors (just kidding, of course, but, hey, Fox – let’s do lunch? OK?).

Or, how about, “Ergonomics Ambush,” where a hip, stylish ergo dude or chick shows up at random cubicles to adjust chairs, hand out wrist rests, and accessorize, while the occupant succumbs to a seated chair massage by a licensed therapist, who also chats about the worker’s wardrobe?

Personally, I’d like to have almost any of the guys from “Junkyard Wars” on my industrial ergo team. “Make that adjustable?  No problem, mate.  We’ll just scavenge some parts from this idle conveyor and the differential off of one of your old fork trucks.”

An issue is that too many people think of the details of ergo as a big yawner, like re-runs of a procedural debate on C-Span, or a Discovery Channel special on protozoa near deep ocean vents.  For the MTV crowd, ergonomics is, like, so off the radar until we interview hip-hop artists rapping about WRMSD.

One real program I like is a cable show titled “Who’s the Boss Now?” which takes the CEO of an organization and makes him or her perform the work that the employees of the company do on a regular basis.  Talk about making a connection between upper management and risk factors.  Of course, the CEO who is willing to take that challenge, and to allow it to be recorded on film, is already someone set apart from a detached manager.

So maybe we take an enforcement approach.  How about “Law and Order – CTD” or “Navy – HFES” where either grizzled or crack human factors specialists, respectively, solve violations of the General Duty Clause or “Mil. Std 1472”?  These guys pack a goniometer and a gun and make RULA look sexy.

The policy debate surrounding the federal ergonomics regulation was briefly touched on during one episode of the “The West Wing.”  Next season, I see a labor activist as a love interest for one of the main cast members.  Also, a new show about a hand surgeon with a troubled past who becomes involved in the lives, and the workplaces, of his clients as he travels around the country, seeking adventure.  Or “Who Wants to be a CPE?” with Regis Philbin offering generous cash prizes for answering questions drawn from “McCormick and Saunders” and the Kodak book?

Laugh if you will, but ask universities how enrollment has changed in forensics courses since the launching of the “CSI” franchise.  And who doesn’t know just a little bit more about subduing crocodiles than they did 10 years ago?

What we don’t want to see is a workplace themed show similar to “Survivor” or “Fear Factor” where bad ergonomics design is seen as a challenge to be endured.  And a newsmagazine expose on lost time injuries, no matter how poignant, won’t help use escape our droll image.  We need to be more Monica and less Ross.  Strangely enough, we may need either a sitcom character or a reality television show get people to pay attention to the realities and possibilities of their own workplaces.

Hmmm, now that Frasier has left the building, I wonder if Kelsey Grammer.  .  .

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-09-29.