Ergonomics, also referred to as human factors, is both a discipline and a science that involves designing the environment, like the workplace for example, to best fit the person or employee. This design process includes evaluating the equipment and job or task so that the environment best fits the person working in it.
Ergonomic studies observe workers and how they interact with their work environment. By designing ergonomic furniture and equipment and placing it in an ergonomically friendly workplace, experts in the field can reduce the amount of strain and discomfort felt by the worker. Not only can ergonomics relieve tension, stress, and musculoskeletal discomfort, but it can also prevent long-term health problems.
While the science of ergonomics has been applied to modern-day equipment and job situations, evidence indicates that Ancient Greece could be the foundation of the discipline. This evidence includes Hippocrates description of how a surgeon’s operating workplace and tools should be arranged and designed. Although some historians support claims that the origins of ergonomics were founded in Ancient Greece, others argue that it was in fact early Egyptians who developed principles of ergonomics and illustrated them in relation to their tools and household equipment. Regardless of the exact origins of ergonomics, the term comes from the Greek words for work (ergon) and natural laws (nomos).
Ergonomic principles have been applied to work methods and tools for centuries. In the 1800s, Frederick Winslow Taylor, proposed methods to optimize various work responsibilities like that of shoveling coal. Scientists built on Taylor’s methods and began developing ways to improve the efficiency of a number of given tasks by eliminating all unnecessary actions or steps. Quickly, scientists realized this approach could greatly increase a worker’s productivity. During World War II a lieutenant in the United States Army, Alphonse Chapanis, discovered that frequent "pilot error" committed by the best-trained pilots could be largely reduced when controls and cockpit designs were placed in more logical locations. As time has progressed and equipment and work environments have changed, ergonomic principles and methods have adjusted along the way. In the end, the goal is the same—to make the workplace best fit the worker.
Ergonomics has continued to flourish as new challenges arise in the workplace. There is a constant expectation that work can be done faster and more efficiently. Because workers are expected to work harder, longer, and be more productive, companies are turning to ergonomics and ergonomically designed equipment in the workplace to ensure their employees have all the necessary tools to accomplish these goals. Ergonomic furniture for the office has become a booming business as employers and employees alike search for a better way to work.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), millions of people sit at a desk and use computers every day in the workplace, and there is no one posture or arrangement of components in the office that will fit everyone. However, OSHA acknowledges that there are basic design goals to consider when setting up a workstation, selecting ergonomic furniture, or performing computer-related tasks.
By applying ergonomics to the workplace, the worker or employee must find a comfortable working posture that reduces stress and strain on the body’s muscles and skeletal system. By working in this neutral position, OSHA states one can greatly reduce the risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder.
Many people who spend their work days sitting for long periods of time can attest to having had back pain at one time or another. The ergonomics department at UCLA explains that awkward postures can affect your back by increasing strain on back muscles. These postures can bend the spine into positions that place pressure on discs, and when awkward postures are repetitive or prolonged, the risk of injury is greater.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fatigue and visual and musculoskeletal discomfort can be significantly reduced when ergonomics is applied properly to the workplace. By applying common principles of ergonomics, one can reduce stress and remove the possibility of potential injuries and disorders often associated with the repetitive use of muscles and poor posture. To accomplish this, the CDC recommends designing tasks, equipment and work spaces to fit the physical capabilities and limitations of the employee.
According to the International Ergonomics Association, ergonomists analyze human interaction and the design of a system in order to optimize the human’s well-being and the system’s overall performance. Through the research of scientists around the world, ergonomics has been applied to design ergonomic furniture and work spaces that not only increase productivity but also improve the health and well-being of the person.
Employers are striving to provide a productive work environment for employees of all different shapes and sizes. Thanks to ergonomic experts, there are options in the office furniture world that can provide comfort, support, and long-term health benefits for every employee. Not to mention, productivity can greatly increase when an employee is placed in an ergonomically correct workspace. Ergonomic furniture takes into account several factors to ensure employees can work efficiently and comfortably.
One designer who is successfully using human factors to design office furniture is Niel Diffrient. Diffrient, co-author of the reference book for designers, Humanscale, has said the key to ergonomics is gathering all the data possible to best understand how the human body and its surroundings function. Diffrient says "you let the user drive the design."
Designers around the world are viewing furniture design through a new lens. By marrying the science of ergonomics with the art of design, the consumer now has the option to purchase ergonomic furniture that will enhance their lives—both at home and in the office.