The Power of Incorrect Ergonomic Thinking: The Science and Art of Ergonomics Helps Safety Strategists Make Adjustments That Bridge the Gap between People and Their Work

By Pater, Robert | Occupational Hazards, April 2006 | Go to article overview

The Power of Incorrect Ergonomic Thinking: The Science and Art of Ergonomics Helps Safety Strategists Make Adjustments That Bridge the Gap between People and Their Work


Pater, Robert, Occupational Hazards


The aim of ergonomic design and/or behavior modifications is to create safer and more efficient performance, as well as boost worker satisfaction. A one-size-fits-all approach, while understandably easier to implement, is antithetical to effective ergonomic interventions, and only will help to a point of diminishing returns, in the same way that a second scissors lift brought in to sit right next to an existing one is unlikely to further reduce injuries.

Too often, we've heard of ergonomic interventions that solely are based on preprinted checklists that treated all workers as if they were identical. This doesn't make sense to me as a developer of soft-tissue injury and other prevention interventions.

Sometimes pressures to be "politically correct" would have us pretend that everyone is exactly the same, with equal risks and identical concerns. As one of my colleagues, Paul McClellan, responds when asked about the "best" way to do a job, "Best for whom? A 5-foot-6-inch, 52-year-old worker who's had previous back injuries or a newly hired, 6-foot-7-inch, 25-year-old worker with no history of being injured?"

No surprise that in addition to age, height and experience, gender differences also can affect safety. Of course, "different" doesn't mean "superior" or "inferior."

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

While we never should be offensive nor invasive, it is critical for strategic leaders to see and address those actual contributors to safety problems. These include biological design and past environmental influences.

Start by recognizing that men and women may be vulnerable to potential injury in different ways. Some males may have an I'm-too-tough-to-get-hurt attitude--or at least won't admit it when they do get hurt--that can lead to a higher level of risk-taking. Physically, I've seen many men default toward applying upper-body strength in heavier work; this can increase the risk of lower-back injuries.

And statistically, men consult with physicians at a significantly lower rate than do women. It may be that, relative to women, men in general either don't recognize internal signals of disorder/injury or just direct less attention toward what is happening in their bodies. bodies. So whether this is an issue of not seeing or not admitting that potential damage is building, it becomes more difficult to head off problems at the pass. And because forces transfer through the body, untreated foot pain can lead to knee problems, lower back pain to neck pain--and more.

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