There is a growing buzz concerning the subject of ergonomics and how it can be used to create safe, pleasant working environments. As a growing amount of companies begin to tout their products as “ergonomic,” the average person may be left with more questions than answers. What is the definition of ergonomics? Why is it important? How does ergonomics affect daily life, both in and out of work?
So what is ergonomics? It’s more than just a marketing buzzword. The study of ergonomics is a real, interdisciplinary science dedicated to improving the quality of human life and work in terms of how we utilize and interact with technology and the spaces surrounding us.
Okay, so you’ve heard the buzzword a few times now and you’re guessing that ergonomics is important in some way or another, but you may still be asking, what does ergonomics mean?
Merriam-Webster defines the meaning of ergonomics as “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely”—also known as biotechnology, human engineering, and human factors engineering. Etymologically, the word “ergonomics” derives from the Greek words ergon and nomoi, meaning “work” and “natural laws,” respectively (i.e., the study of the natural laws at play in the workplace).
So to answer the question of “what is ergo?” in easier terms, quite simply ergonomics is the study of designing the most efficient products and spaces that will maximize human comfort and safety. While the term “ergonomics” is often heard in relation to office workspaces (you’ve no doubt heard of “ergonomic keyboards” and “ergonomic computer mice”), the truth is that the study of ergonomics applies to everything we use and interact with in our daily lives.
How does ergonomics affect my daily life?
With all the marketing buzz around “ergonomic products” and “ergonomic spaces,” it is important to clarify that essentially everything you use is ergonomic (in that it will have some sort of effect on your health or comfort), but whether or not that effect is positive or negative determines whether or not the product or space has good ergonomics or bad ergonomics. A product or space designed with good ergonomics in mind will be efficient and comfortable for the user, while poor design with bad ergonomics will result in user frustration and possibly even danger.
Although you may not be consciously aware of it, ergonomics (whether good or bad) plays a role in all the items and spaces of your daily life, and not just at work. The design of your car, cell phone, shoes, living room furniture, even your toothbrush—ergonomics is a factor in all of these items. If you have a cell phone that is intuitive and easy to use, which you can hold comfortably in your hand while accomplishing everything you need it to do for you—then that is ergonomics at work. If your toothbrush can be held comfortably while cleaning your teeth effectively, then that too is an example of ergonomics.
You’ve probably heard the word “ergonomics” most often in relation to computers or office spaces. In today’s world of technological paradise, people may find themselves spending hours a day looking at a computer screen. Without good ergonomics, this extensive computer use can be quite uncomfortable and even dangerous. In the world of computer usage, ergonomics refers to things like screen brightness, placement of the keyboard and the screen in relation to the user as well as to each other, and the setup of the workspace itself (i.e., the desk and chair).
The study of ergonomics is important because without good ergonomics, you are likely to experience discomfort and pain which will lead to low performance as you go about your daily life.
So in real-life, practical application, what IS ergonomics?
Ergonomics is found in a chair that allows you to sit comfortably and safely while still remaining alert and awake, a drill that minimizes uncomfortable vibrations and enables you to hold it easily while working with it, or a hiking boot that enables you to climb mountains without blistering your feet or slipping to the ground. Ergonomics is at use when designing office spaces, military equipment, and spacecraft.
Ultimately, ergonomics is all about how you can make an environment or a tool most suitable for the human body’s comfort and safety. That’s why it’s also known as “human factors engineering,” because it is the study of how “human factors” (i.e., the general attributes, strengths, and weaknesses of humanity) interact with technology and industry.
Why is ergonomics in the workplace so important?
Good ergonomics in the workplace is important for both employers and employees; when an employee is able to complete their tasks with the highest amount of comfort, safety, and efficiency, they are then able to perform at the highest quality standards.
Obviously, employees want to work in an environment that is safe and comfortable. No one wants carpal tunnel syndrome, eyestrain, or back pain from sitting at a computer desk all day. Additionally, there are intrinsic benefits to working in an environment with good ergonomics—higher productivity and higher quality work lead to higher self-esteem and better mental health.
Providing ergonomic workplaces for employees generally proves to be equally beneficial for the employer. When your employees are comfortable and satisfied, your company is able to function at maximum productivity, which to put it bluntly, means maximum money for your company. And as an employer, you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that you are working to provide the best possible workplace for your employees.
Ergonomics is all around us, in every piece of technology we use and every space we occupy. Ergonomics is important in the work place, but also in casual environments. The more we understand and are aware of good and bad ergonomics and its effect on our comfort and safety (both as employers, employees, and just plain humans), the better we will be able to perform routine functions in our daily lives.
What Does Ergonomic Mean?
Now that we have a better understanding of what ergonomics means it is important to distinguish its meaning against something that is ergonomic.
To say that something, be that a piece of equipment, furniture, or something else you may interact with is ergonomic is to say that it is designed in such a way that complements your body’s posture or movements.
Put simply, something that is ergonomic does not put any undue stress or exertion on your body when you interact with it. It’s design and form is such that it feels natural to use and should minimize discomfort whilst also maximizing efficiency of the task at hand.