From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Work and Ergonomics: Where We Are and Where We Are Going

Technological, work, social and economic indicators reveal that there is an increasing variety of jobs and diversity of employees performing them, according to a recent essay by C G Drury.  With this degree of multeity, the author concludes, the likelihood of a mismatch between a worker’s capabilities and a job’s demands will prompt the need for ergonomic interventions.

The article was one of several in the January 2008 issue of Ergonomics, which commemorated 50 years of publication by inviting prominent ergonomists from different countries to make comments and predictions pertaining to ergonomics for the coming 50 years.

Drury discussed the following points.

Technology Trends
The nature of numerous work activities has changed due to technology developments.  Examples include:

  • Greater cognitive function is required to interact with automated intelligent systems (i.e., cockpits and control rooms)
  • Human-computer interaction has allowed for effortless data acquisition and manipulation across industries
  • Job elimination has occurred (airline counter activity and retail counter checkout)
  • Telecommuting has promoted technology-mediated communication but at the cost of social isolation

Work Trends
Greater leisure time, an anticipated result of advances, has not occurred.  Instead, work intensity and duration has increased as a result of:

  • Rapid and cheap communication (i.e., the BlackBerry) which has made work portable
  • Globalization which has promoted round-the-clock work activity
  • Workers taking multiple part-time jobs (from different employers)

The level of physical demands at work has continued to be excessive as work-related musculoskeletal injuries extract marked industrial and societal costs.

Social Trends
Demographic changes are affecting the characteristics of workers in western countries.  The population is aging while at the same time, greater ethnic diversity is occurring.  Both females and people with disabilities are assuming a greater variety of jobs.

More than in the past, social support is sought at the workplace as traditional stabilizing factors (marriage, low crime rates) change.

The ecological impact of work is gradually becoming acknowledged with a goal of sustainability in work methods/processes.

Economic Trends
In the western world, economic activity has shifted from agriculture/manufacturing to the service sector.  A service employee frequently co-creates a product with a customer causing the placement of a specific order as opposed to the purchase of a stock item.  Such customer demand prompts the creation of a variety of products that require a variety of manufacturing tasks.

Globalization has led to the need of worldwide supply chains, rapid movement of products and changes in manufacturing locations.

Other Notes
This edition of Ergonomics also requested authors to comment on a futuristic analysis of the ergonomics profession written in 1962 by Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett.  Ergonomics is the official journal of the British based Ergonomics Society and has close ties with the International Ergonomics Association.

Article Title: The future of ergonomics/the future of work: 45 years after Bartlett (1962)

Publication: Ergonomics, 51:1 14-20, 2008

Author: C G Drury 

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2008-01-16.