From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Prevention through Design; Ethical Violations; the BendDesk; Ergotron Acquisition

Prevention Through Design: NIOSH’s Plan for a National Initiative

Ergonomists apply a hierarchy of methods when we are attempting to control a hazard or other process failures. In order of effectiveness, they are:

  1. Engineering controls;
  2. Administrative controls; and
  3. Personal protective equipment.

Engineering controls are always the most effective, because they either remove the hazard at it’s root, or at least reduce or isolate the hazard so that exposures are controlled through design. Administrative controls, like work practices, job rotation, etc., are attempts to reduce exposures, but often rely on human behavior and other factors that are difficult to control in a dynamic system, so are less likely to be effective than engineering/design. Similarly, personal protective equipment (PPE) creates a barrier between a hazard and person, but also relies on human behavior and never really addresses the root hazard.

Unfortunately, in practice, many companies and industries turn to administrative and PPE control methods that appear easier and cheaper to administer, yet end up costing far more in the long run simply because they are not effective and never solve the underlying root problems in a process. NIOSH recognizes this and has released a document titled Prevention Through Design [PtD]: Plan for the National Initiative.

The initiative’s goals are organized around four overarching areas:

  1. Research: Research will establish the value of adopted PtD interventions, address existing design-related challenges, and suggest areas for future research.
  2. Education: Designers, engineers, machinery and equipment manufacturers, health and safety (H&S) professionals, business leaders, and workers understand PtD methods
    and apply their knowledge and skills to the design of facilities, processes, equipment,
    tools, and organization of work.
  3. Practice: Stakeholders access, share, and apply successful PtD practices.
  4. Policy: Business leaders, labor, academics, government entities, and standard-setting organizations endorse a culture that includes PtD principles in all designs affecting workers

Small Business was added as an additional focus for goal development to address the unique challenges of applying PtD methods to small business processes and environments.

You can read or download the plan at the NIOSH web site.


Nortek to Acquire Ergotron

I was surprised to see that Ergotron, a prominent manufacturer of ergonomic mounting and mobility products for computer monitors, notebooks and flat panel displays, is being sold to Nortek, a manufacturer of "branded residential and commercial ventilation, HVAC and home technology convenience and security products." I’m happy for the Ergotron shareholders, but I’m also a little confused as to why a company with no apparent knowledge or stake in the ergonomics product market is the new owner.

On it’s web site, Nortek describes it’s products as:

… designed to meet the needs of professionals in the new construction and remodeling markets as well as individual contractors, wholesalers and do-it-yourself customers around the world.

They go on to describe their subsidiaries as producing products for:

  • Residential Ventilation Products, or RVP
  • Home Technology Products, or HTP    
  • Residential HVAC
  • Commercial HVAC

Ventilation, heating and air conditioning certainly seem a far cry from ergonomic products, but there’s a clue in their press release that explains their interest in Ergotron and its products:

“The acquisition of Ergotron will be complementary to Nortek’s existing Home Technology Products segment and provides Nortek with an additional platform for growth and profitability, while diversifying its exposure to the commercial, healthcare and education markets,” said Richard L. Bready, Nortek’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.  (full press release)

That is, Nortek sees opportunity in ergonomics. Congratulations and bravo, Ergotron and Nortek!


BendDesk: The Wave of the Future for Computer Input?

I’m always on the lookout for new technologies that may replace the mouse-keyboard computer input interface. So called "smartphones" have been leading the way on the touch screen front, and their small screens make gesturing inputs simple and non-threatening for typical users. Tablets take  touch screen gesture input to a larger scale, and unless they’re used for long durations or for input intensive tasks, the new devices so far appear to present minor musculoskeletal concerns. But what if we explode the screen to a much larger scale, yet retain the touch/gesturing input interface? Welcome to the BendDesk, a concept design from students at the Media Computing Group at RWTH Aachen University.

I have a prediction. As cool as this technology is, there are musculoskeletal disorders on the horizon for any intensive users. I sure hope they get some input from qualified ergonomists as they refine their design.

You can visit the BendDesk web site for more information.


Ohio Workers Comp Manager Resigns Over Ergonomics Business

James Fograscher, the interim director of self-insurance at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, resigned in October following ethical questions related to his side business, Executive Huddle, a division of which provides ergonomics services under the name Ergo Huddle. Those services were apparently similar to ergonomic services provided by the bureau.

According to the Columbus Dispatch,

… Fograscher was disciplined in 1997 for using state time, equipment and resources to prepare a training presentation for which he was privately paid for a West Virginia employer doing business with the state. He was docked a day’s vacation for the breach.

Since then, records show Fograscher appearing to be diligent in asking for clearance to conduct outside work from either a superior or from James Barnes, the bureau’s chief ethics officer. Seven separate requests in 2004, 2006, 2007 and this April were all approved. Some of the requests were for earlier freelance work, mostly facilitating events. Executive Huddle was incorporated in August 2007.

It was The Ergo Huddle that raised a red flag …  (full article)

Call me crazy, but how is it that a state employee would even have time to operate a private consulting company, let alone get caught with his hands in the cookie jar?