Workplace ergonomics is the practice of designing an office or other workspace in a way intended to minimize employee health risks and increase employee productivity, thus reducing employer costs. In an office setting, this practice may involve creating a user-friendly workspace layout as well as introducing furniture and equipment designed to offer optimal bodily support. Workplace ergonomics in a manufacturing environment can involve designing both machinery and physical tasks in such a way that the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI) is diminished. First emerging from the increasing industrialization of the 19th century, workplace ergonomics has become a major industry in its own right, spawning specialty furniture companies and consultancy firms.
Office-based workplace ergonomics can be viewed as having two main components: office layout and furniture and equipment selection. An ergonomics-minded employer may plan the layout of her company’s workspace in such a way that all offices and shared equipment, such as photocopiers, are easily accessible, and all walkways are kept free of obstructions. In an “open-plan” office, she may arrange cubicles so each employee has adequate space to sit and move freely. Additionally, she may ensure that all workspace areas receive sufficient lighting.
Careful furniture and equipment selection and arrangement is also central to office-based workplace ergonomics. For instance, an employer may reduce her employees’ risk of back injury by choosing supportive, adjustable chairs which provide comfort while encouraging proper posture. She may diminish the chances of eye, neck, and wrist strain by advising employees about the correct positioning of computer monitors and keyboards.
The manufacturing industry also commonly utilizes the principles of workplace ergonomics in order to reduce the possibility of employee injury. Over time, the repeated performance of a small task, such as lifting a box or even turning a wrench, can lead to RSI. By engineering manufacturing tools and machinery with the user’s body in mind and varying each employee’s physical tasks, ergonomics-minded manufacturing firms can diminish the occurrence of RSI in the workplace.
Concern for workplace ergonomics has led to the evolution of a major industry. Many furniture and office equipment designers specialize in creating pieces intended to promote employee safety and comfort. In addition, a great many ergonomics consultancy firms exist. These firms can study one’s workplace to determine areas of physical weakness. They can then work with employers to design a layout which minimizes the risk of employee injury, in turn encouraging productivity and reducing costs.