Written by Sierra Rein
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The definition of ergonomics is the science of designing equipment, usually meant for the workplace, that helps to maximize levels of productivity. This science concentrates on decreasing a worker's levels of fatigue and discomfort. It takes into account both the physical workplace environment as well as the specific construction and makeup of the human body.

The term "ergonomics" comes from the combination of two Greek terms: "ergon," meaning work and "nomoi," or natural law. A person who studies and analyzes ergonomic sciences studies the particular ways in which the human body moves in relation to the demands of the workplace. He then is able to design furniture, computer screens, desks and any number of accessories to alleviate the aches and pains associated with work.

The History of Ergonomics

For years, problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, blurred eyesight, headaches and back pain were common amongst those who sat for long periods, performing common stationary jobs. Doctors in the 18th century noticed that some body positions, held for long periods of time, led to problems in the musculoskeletal system. However, it was not until the mid part of the 20th century that the science of ergonomics was developed.

There are three principles regarding how ergonomic information can help all workplaces. The first is that there should be a number of different postures for a worker to assume, as long as they are all equally beneficial. The second is that whenever any force is applied to a job, it should be performed by the largest available muscle group.

The third principle of ergonomics refers to joints, especially those near the head, trunk and upper limbs. The ergonomically correct activity should be placed with the joint at the mid-point range of movement. All three principles are meant to relieve repeated stress upon a muscle group, joint, tendon or nerve.

Putting Ergonomic Knowledge to Work

Any workplace, from a high-volume office workplace to a small home-based business, can benefit from the application of these principles. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, one-third of all work-related problems were due to pains and aches in the musculoskeletal system. In 1997, $20 billion a year were paid directly into worker's comp costs, while almost 650,000 workdays amongst employees were due to MSD's (musculoskeletal disorders).

It is thus incredibly important for workers and business managers to work together to create a more effective and safe area to work. Education regarding the principles of ergonomics among the workforce will reduce stress, injuries and fatigue, and will promote a healthier attitude about performing a job. Indeed, most ergonomic experts even suggest multiple breaks to relieve monotony, allow a worker to stretch, and go back to work refreshed and energized to tackle the next task.

Designing an Ergonomically Friendly Work Station

The most important elements in ergonomics are how to choose and adjust furniture and where and how to angle the keyboard, mouse and computer screen during usage. In addition, applied ergonomics concentrates on the process of creating symmetrical associations between the worker and other office equipment in the room and how to properly equip the space with lighting and anti-glare devices. Finally, everyone in the workplace must be educated regarding the proper use of all equipment in the hopes that related occupational injuries will soon reduce in number.

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