Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Measuring the reality of ergonomics

Ergonomics, like many IE concepts, has become more mainstream in the past few years. Every media outlet seems to have a story on standing desks or adjustable workstations. Numerous material handling products tout their safety as well as efficiency. Some workplaces highlight their ergonomics programs to lure high-performing employees.

But plenty of room for improvement remains. As you’ll see on Pages 13 and 14 in The Front Line, U.S. businesses are losing more than $1 billion a day from workplace injuries, and fatalities from falls, slips and trips increased 10 percent from 724 in 2013 to 793 in 2014.

Perhaps, suggests Jack Kester, they’re just not measuring reality the right way.

It seems simple, right? The enterprise starts an ergonomics program and workplace injuries and OSHA recordable incidents decline, while healthy employees become more productive.

But it doesn’t always work that way, Kester writes in “The Right Metrics for Ergonomics,” which starts on Page 28. Often, knowledge of ergonomics brings problems to light. That nagging back or carpal tunnel syndrome that workers thought they just had to live with? Well, we can fix that, but uncovering the issue might lead to increases in workers’ compensation claims. Management might decide the ergo process is causing more woes than it’s worth.

While injuries are valid long-term metrics, Kester points out a number of better short-term metrics that management should use to keep its nascent ergonomics program on track. In classic industrial engineering parlance, choosing the right thing to measure when is the key to figuring out – and then fixing – what ails your workers.

The March issue of the mag has plenty more ergonomics where that comes from. The Front Line (Page 12) discusses how the aging workforce will have ergonomists working on organizational dynamics. Tools & Technologies (Page 56) examines a program that can help you review and promote healthier lifting techniques. And The Institute has a Volunteer Snapshot with Tim McGlothlin, who has been a driving force behind the Applied Ergonomics Conference.

Visit the conference (www.appliedergoconference.org) for plenty of 3-D activities in safety, applied research and the world-famous Ergo Cup competition. Turn the pages to learn about ergonomics in our traditional, 2-D magazine format.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.