Proactive Ergonomics

Sometimes this approach is referred to as proactive ergonomics or safety through design. The concept encompasses facilities, hardware, equipment, tooling, materials, layout and configuration, energy controls, and environmental concerns and products. Designing or purchasing to eliminate or materially reduce ergonomic hazards in the design process helps to avoid costly retrofitting. It also results in easier and less costly implementation of ergonomic controls.

Ergonomists endorse the hierarchy of controls, which accords first place to engineering controls, because these control technologies should be selected based on their reliability and efficacy in eliminating or reducing the workplace hazard (risk factors) giving rise to the ergonomic issues. Engineering controls are preferred because these controls and their effectiveness have the following characteristics:

  • • Reliable
  • • Consistent
  • • Effective
  • • Measurable
  • • Not dependent on human behavior (that of managers, supervisors, or workers) for their effectiveness
  • • Do not introduce new hazards into the process

In contrast to administrative and work practice controls or personal protective equipment, which occupy the second and third tiers of the hierarchy, respectively, engineering controls fix the problem once and for all. However, because there is such variability in workplace conditions, there is a need to use any combination of engineering, work practice, or administrative controls as methods of control for ergonomic hazards.

Education and training can be used in a variety of ways. The foremost is to train all employees in ergonomic hazard awareness, the program and procedures, sign and symptom identification, and types of injuries and illnesses. Second, train some of the workforce in ergonomic assessment so that there will be teams of both management and labor to evaluate ergonomic hazards and make recommendations for controlling the potential risk factors on the jobs in your workplace. With proper training, you can have an educated workforce who can be assets rather than liabilities in solving ergonomic problems.

Ergonomic principles are most effectively applied to workstations and new designs on a preventive basis, before injuries or illnesses occur. Good design with ergonomics provides the greatest economic benefit for industry. Design strategies should emphasize fitting job demands to the capabilities and limitations of employees. To achieve this, decision makers must have appropriate information and knowledge about ergonomic risk factors and ways to control them. They need to know about the problems in jobs and the causes. Designers of in-house equipment, machines, and processes also need to have an understanding of ergonomic risk factors and know how to control them. For example, they may need anthropometric data to be able to design to the range of capabilities and limitations of employees.

It is also important that persons involved in procurement have basic knowledge about the causes of problems and ergonomic solutions. For example, they need to know that adjustable chairs can reduce awkward postures and that narrow tool handles can considerably increase the amount of force required to perform a task. In addition, to prevent the introduction of new hazards into the workplace, procurement personnel need information about equipment needs.

Ergonomics is a continuous improvement process. If an employer can show that they have made an organized effort to identify ergonomic stressors, to educate affected employees on ergonomic principles, to implement solutions, and to have a system to identify when a solution is not working and needs to be readdressed, then a giant step has been taken toward mitigating your ergonomic problems.

Further Readings

California Department of Industrial Relations (Cal/OSHA), Easy Ergonomics: A Practical Approach for Improving the Workplace. 1999.

Reese, C.D. Accident/Incident Prevention Techniques (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2012.

Reese, C.D. and J.V. Eidson. Handbook of OSHA Construction Safety & Health (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis, 2006.

United States Department of Health and Human Services: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Elements of Ergonomics Programs (DHHS-97—117). 1997.

United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Job Hazard Analysis and Control (1910.917-922), Subject Index. "Internet" 2001. Available at http://www

United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Subject Index. "Internet." April 1999. Available at

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