New Frontiers of Workplace Ergonomics
By Franz Schnieder
It is clear to me that my early training as a biologist influenced everything I have done in my later career as a technologist (i.e. applying the life sciences through engineering as an ergonomist). When confronted with an issue I always want to get to the root source of a problem and not just treat the symptoms. With that in mind, can you name all of the barriers in your company that keep people from performing at their best level? Certainly the obvious ones jump out at us; work to high/too low, extended hours of work, extremes of temperature, excessive cardiovascular workload, unintelligible displays, the list continues for another 3,000 or so items. But what of a subtler malignancy that prevents your people from optimal performance – nutrition.
Research released in 2010 by Duke University found that the cost to employers of obesity among full-time employees was $73.1 billion a year as an estimate of the negative effects of obesity on absenteeism, presenteeism and work productivity. The flip side of the obesity coin are the 50.2 million Americans living in households that are food insecure (meaning they do not always know where they will find their next meal. (The fact that in 1996 Federal bureaucrats felt that food insecure should replace the word hunger in all government materials just makes my blood boil.)
Wow, in a country as smart as ours and in a country as bountiful as ours; 29% of our workers are obese and as many as 10,000,000 go to work hungry every day.
What is my point? In the pursuit of the optimal workplace ecology/economy of our slog is far from over. If you think you have excessive load lifting under control, start looking at cognitive ergonomics. If you have that well in hand, investigate chrono hygiene. If you believe you have mastered a workplace that can embrace both the new hire and the 65 year old returning to the workforce then have a look at the new area of ergonomics I have introduced to you today; LCPTN = leveraging corporate performance through nutrition. There is a world of opportunity to make the US workplace good for people and great for business.