Organizational Ergonomics – Part 1

Redesigning the physical environment using the science of ergonomics will help in reducing repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s) for workers.  But there are other things to consider when implementing new equipment and design that could be detrimental to a happy, productive work environment.

Consider social interaction:  Joe has worked next to his buddy, Frank, for 20 years on the assembly line.  They have a great time working together and talk constantly.  Joe and Frank both have pain and discomfort in their wrists related to their jobs putting small electronic parts together.  An ergonomic consultant comes in and suggests job rotation (workers rotate through a number of jobs during the day to reduce the physical and repetitive demands of performing the same job all day).  This means that Joe and Frank will not be working beside each other regularly.  Instead of productivity increasing, it declines.  And Joe and Frank have not reported any relief from their wrist symptoms.  What went wrong?

Solution:  The ergonomic consultant didn’t consider social interaction or organizational ergonomics when making recommendations.  Once the recommendation was made that Joe and Frank rotate through their jobs while working within talking distance of each other, productivity increased and their wrist pain started to improve.

It is always important to consider the social and team aspect of workers when redesigning workstations.  They provide support and enjoyment to each other and that should always be encouraged in any new workplace design.

There are many more aspects of organizational ergonomics that can help workplaces.  Future posts will look at increasing the potential of workers, streamlining processes, and involving workers in solving problems.


Mac Computer Designs – cool design, but not really ergonomic

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a person that doesn’t like the look of a Mac computer.  Sleek, simple, white – the products are modern and futuristic.  But unfortunately the ergonomics on Mac products could be better.

Let’s start with the iMac hard drive/monitor combination.  My main complaint about this monitor is that it is not height adjustable.  For people of shorter stature, the screen is too high which forces them to tilt their chin up and as a result, overuse their neck extension muscles.  This can result in a sore neck and/or shoulders along with the potential for headaches.  Also, the screen is glossy which increases the potential for glare.  Glare not only causes eye strain, but also causes people to change their posture to avoid the glare, e.g. leaning to one side of the chair or the other in order to see the screen.

Moving on to the compact keyboard, this could also be improved.  On the plus side, a compact keyboard is great for allowing the mouse to be closer to the user and reduce reaching.  On the negative side, this compact keyboard is too small for larger people.  Wrist radial deviation becomes more pronounced and increases the risk for injury.  Also, the keys seem a bit stiff and require more force to type.  This over time can result in fatigue and overuse.

Lastly, the Apple Magic Mouse.  It looks great, but it requires awkward postures when scrolling and swiping.  I always discourage scrolling as is requires excessive activation of the finger and wrist extensor muscles.  These muscles become tight and overused easily and scrolling is the culprit.  Adding two-finger horizontal swiping to the mix intensifies the risk factors for this mouse.  And the larger surface area for scrolling further compounds the problem, along with the “claw-like” posture that requires excessive activation of the finger flexors.

In a perfect world, design and function would complement each other, and hopefully in the future this will be the case with Macs.