From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Resolutions and Ergonomics

The good news about holiday resolutions is that most of them are consistent with ergonomic principles. Anything to do with exercise, stretching, diet or wellness falls into a health conscious category that parallels ergonomics. Even though conditioning “fits the worker to the job” (the complete reversal of the familiar ergo mantra), the two paths, when combined, can lead to a better overall fit. And what about habit-based resolutions, such as getting reports done on time or being nicer to your cat? Well, we can probably lump those into some type of macroergonomics category.


Sure, your gift-giving habits may reflect your passion and occupation. Who else gives foamy-gripped kitchen tools to the ones they love? And grandma and grandpa know that the programmable remote with the REALLY BIG buttons could only come from one member of the family. But coming off a season filled with ergonomic nightmares, such as dragging full grown trees into and out of living rooms, hauling boxed bargains through the mall to the car at the far parking lot, frenzied lines to buy and return, and clearing snow-covered walks (no matter what shape the handle on the shovel), it’s important now to reflect on the issues from last year so we can appropriately address the challenges of the year ahead.


For ergonomics, 2003 was a tough year in many respects. After 13 years, the National Safety Council gave up sponsorship of the ANSI Z365 standard on control of WRMSD. The State of Washington‘s ergonomics standard was repealed by voter referendum in November, before it was fully enacted. And the federal OSHA industry-specific guidelines progress at an agonizingly slow pace.


The depressed business climate has also taken its toll. When cash is tight and managers are forced to choose between things they HAVE to do based upon regulations and things they SHOULD do, such as following voluntary guidelines, ergonomics tends to get placed in the latter category. Even funds for training and conferences have been in tight supply.


So a key resolution for the health and safety professional is to keep the faith in spite of these setbacks, and to remain committed, even when ergonomics is far from the flavor of the week; to maintain a long term perspective on the value of the worker in the workplace, despite these short term disappointments.


The news is not all gloomy. The number of companies who have full- or part-time staff positions with the title of, or responsibility for, ergonomics has risen dramatically over the last 10 years. The National Ergonomics Conference and Exhibition just reported record attendance at its recent event in Las Vegas. The State of Michigan has created a new task force charged with developing a workplace ergonomics standard. And even the terms “ergonomic” and “ergonomics” have become firmly entrenched in the vocabularies of engineering, safety, design, advertising and business.


With over 40 percent of work related, lost time injury claims reported in several states being classified as ergonomics-related, there should be no fear among practitioners that there remains a clear need to be addressed. The approaches and vocabulary may change. Standards, regulations and guidelines may be in flux. And the way in which ergonomists work with clients or employers may be different. But the on-going challenges of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the need to make jobs more accessible to a variety of workers, and the continuing demands for increasing safety, productivity and quality mean that there is plenty to do until these issues are resolved.


Philip Jacobs, CPE, CSP

President, Jacobs Consulting, Ltd.

Saint Paul, Minnesota

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-01-01.