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Ergonomics—also called human factors engineering—is the study of the physical and cognitive demands of work to ensure a safe and productive workplace. The function of specialists in ergonomics is to design or improve the workplace, workstations, tools, equipment, and procedures of workers so as to limit fatigue, discomfort, and injuries while also efficiently achieving personal and organizational goals. The goal is to keep the demands of the job within the physical and cognitive capabilities of the people performing those job functions.


Ergonomists, industrial engineers, occupational health and safety professionals, and most importantly, the people doing and supervising the job can work together to improve the design of jobs and workstations that have unsafe characteristics or have caused injury. Controlling errors, eliminating wasted movements, minimizing tool and/or material damage, and improving quality of work are also important goals. The principles of job design discussed in this chapter are relevant to all industry sectors, and examples are drawn from office, health care, and manufacturing. This chapter presents ergonomic approaches that can be applied in the workplace for the prevention and management of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and facilitate stay-at-work and return-to-work approaches that prevent disability.


Health professionals should seek frequent opportunities to tour work areas and familiarize themselves with job procedures, equipment, and working conditions. The concepts presented here should be kept in mind during these workplace visits, and problem areas and activities should be noted for later study and possible job redesign. Such tours should focus on work areas and tasks with high injury rates, high turnover, excessive absenteeism, high error rate, or other signs of a mismatch between worker capabilities and demands of their jobs.

One way to redesign unsafe and unhealthy jobs is to restructure a job at a new level of skill or mechanization. This may involve job simplification (reduction of complexity of the job) or job enlargement (broader use of skills or a greater variety of tasks); the aid of an ergonomist or an industrial engineer will likely be necessary. These professionals prioritize employee health and safety while optimizing productivity because the two are closely interrelated. For example, eliminating unnecessary steps through the application of lean management techniques can also reduce repetitive motions and risk of associated MSDs.


Most ergonomic programs contain the elements, in one form or another, set out in Figure 6–1. Active and passive surveillance techniques can be used to identify and prioritize high-risk jobs for further analysis and intervention. Passive surveillance, also called health surveillance, is the review of existing data (eg, workers’ compensation data, Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] logs, and clinic logs) that identifies high-risk jobs based on prior recordable incidents. These are often referred to as ...

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