Ergonomics done right.®
September 19th, 2011

How Do Your Rate Your Ergonomics Process?

by James Mallon, CPE

During my webinar last week, I asked the attendees three polling questions, and I think the responses were very telling as to the present state and future direction of ergonomics. The questions (and responses by percentage) were:

What is the primary function of ergonomics?

  • 54% – Reduction of WMSD (Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders)
  • 29% – System Performancce
  • 2% – Return to Work for Injured Workers
  • 15% – Other

The majority of the 185 respondents view the primary function of ergonomics to be in the prevention of injury.  This is well placed, however, in my view, rather limiting.  If there were no WMSD injuries, would there be no need for ergonomics?  For me, the primary function of ergonomics is to optimize the performance of the human in a system.

Where does responsibility for your ergonomics process reside?

  • 15% – Ergonomics Group
  • 47% – Environmental Health and Safety
  • 11% – Operations
  • 14% – Human Resources
  • 5%  – Engineering
  • 10% – Other

Ergonomics still seems to be viewed as an EHS responsibility. Depending on how you add it up, 61% to 76% of respondents placed responsibility for ergonomics on EHS, Ergonomics, or Human Resources.  Putting ergonomics under EHS is akin to holding the dishwasher at a restaurant responsible for the amount of food being returned uneaten to the kitchen.  I think responsibility for bad workstation/job design (the root cause of ergonomic risk) rests with those who designed it – engineering/operations, which received only 16% in this poll.

At what level of maturity is your ergonomic process?

  • 2% – Ergo-What?
  • 37% – Reactive
  • 53% – Proactive
  • 8% – Advanced

A good finding – more than half of respondents (53%) consider their ergonomics process to be “proactive”.  But clearly there is still work to do, as almost 40% of respondents are “reactive” (or less mature) and only 8% would consider their process to be “advanced”.  An advanced process is the goal, as it means we are designing in ergonomics before products or workstations reach the plant floor.