From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

The Workplace Ergonomics Process

Dan MacLeod, CPE, MA, MPH

Putting on your ergonomics glasses

Ergonomics does not need to be difficult. Certainly there are complex and highly rigorous aspects of the field that must be done by Ph.D.s in laboratories and universities. However, much can be done in the workplace by ordinary people with a little bit of training, common sense, and good thinking. Sometimes, all that is needed to get started is to “put on your ergonomics glasses” to see the everyday issues that surround you from a new perspective.

The basic process

Process2Be systematic
The basic process is simple and is repeated daily by countless supervisors, engineers, and ordinary workers without knowing they are following a “process.” Rather than doing a job mindlessly, you think about what it is that you are doing, think about alternatives (often by kicking ideas around with other people), changing what you can, and reflecting if it is working the way you intended, and if not, how to fine tune the improvement.

The goal of the ergonomics process is to become systematic with these efforts.

  • Evaluate tasks methodically — for example: What jobs are especially difficult to perform? What jobs are bottlenecks in production? What jobs are planned to be reorganized or renovated?
  • Upgrade people’s skills in evaluating tasks by providing basic information on the principles of ergonomics.

None of this needs to be difficult or complicated. There are times when it is necessary to be more sophisticated (see below), but often the process just amounts to being more organized than what has typically been done in the past.

A Low-Tech Process for Solving Problems


Observe and think

  • Get a group of three or four people to watch a job as it is being performed. Watch long enough to get a good sense of what is being done. On average, this takes about 45 minutes, including watching different people doing the same job or different items being worked on.
  • Discuss issues with employees and supervisor.
  • Take video clips or photos of the key parts of the job. Shoot from different perspectives to make sure you get what you need.
  • Use a simple worksheet to guide you and help make sure that you don’t exclude critical issues.

Discuss and brainstorm

  • Adjourn to a conference room, watch the video clips, and review the worksheet results.
  • Brainstorm options for improvement. Use this brainstorming exercise to help set the tone.

Decide and do

  • Plan the actions and implement the changes. In some cases, it may be appropriate to do it immediately.
  • As needed, get approvals and buy-in.

Check and repeat

  • Check the job afterwards to see if the improvements are working as you intended. If not, fine tune them or make a new plan
  • Once completed, pick another task to evaluate.

A more formal approach

The basic process above can be expanded, including using more formal terms. The idea is the same — if you already know the problem, how to fix it, and can make the changes and reassessment, then the process is simple. However, if at any point, you do not know exactly what should be done, or if you want to be systematic across an entire workplace, then there are additional steps that you may need to take.
Process3The point is that ergonomics can be done simply or may involve complexity, depending upon the circumstances. The model shows these parallel modes.It may take some study to identify a problem, such as understanding human-related causes of defects, or tasks associated with strains and sprains. Or the full evaluation of the problem and the options for improvement might involve a full kaizen event or quantitative analysis. Thus, the flow chart shows a loop at each step that depends on the situation.

Production, quality, safety

This model emphasizes production and quality issues, plus prevention of strains and sprains. Ergonomics has achieved visibility in much of business and industry because of its value in helping prevent these types of injuries, but the field involves more than safety. It constitutes a method for improving quality and productivity in its own right.

Thus, the ergonomics process can be triggered by a variety of human-related issues besides injuries. Examples include:

  • Excessive touch time
  • Defects that are human-related
  • The learning curve for doing a difficult task is too steep

The model also highlights the importance of integrating ergonomics with the other tools of advanced manufacturing, such as Lean Manufacturing, 5S, and mistake proofing. These tools work best when employed synergistically, not independently.

Additional information

This tutorial provides a good introduction, but there is much more — too much to be included on a website. A full length book by the author of this website is available: The Ergonomics Kit for General Industry (Taylor & Francis, 2006). This book is a “how to” manual on setting up practical workplace ergonomics programs and contains best organizational practices developed over a lifetime of consulting experience. It is complete with electronic worksheets, planning guides, and training support materials, as well as detailed case studies of the workplace ergonomics process in action.