Ergonomics: why it’s important to your business
Although the term “ergonomics” is increasingly becoming part of everyday industry lingo, it’s often misinterpreted. Considering it’s already enshrined in legislation (with more likely to follow), it’s important for business owners to get ahead of the game
Dale Kennedy, CEO of Ergomax, recently shed some light on ergonomics and how it applies to business during the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh) continuing professional development (CPD) workshop.
According to the Mine Health and Safety Act, 1996 (Act No. 29 of 1996), Chapter 2 Health and Safety at Mines, Section 21(1)(c) of the Act states: Any person who designs, manufactures, erects or installs any article for use at a mine must ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that Ergonomic principles are considered and implemented during the design, manufacture, erection or installation. Mine management must ensure that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) comply with this requirement.
This example applies to the mining sector, but legislation applying to industries across the board is on the way.
It’s clear that the “ergonomic principles” are important and need to be incorporated into nearly every facet of business, and that’s exactly where Kennedy and his colleagues come in.
Kennedy says: “Ergonomics is derived from the Greek words ‘ergon’ (work) and ‘nomos’ (laws) and literally means the laws relating to work. In short, ergonomics is an applied science, which aims to match the demands of products, jobs and places of work with the people who use them, in a holistic manner, while considering physical, cognitive, social, organisational and environmental implications and impediments.”
That’s a mouthful, so let’s put it in business terms: it’s all about efficiency, which, in turn, results in increased productivity. Ergonomics looks at the entire picture: from how an uncomfortable chair affects an individual employee, to how information should be packaged to be properly understood and received by thousands of employees.
In the end, it’s about structuring a business to run as smoothly as possible by ensuring the work environment doesn’t hinder employees from delivering their best possible work.
Ergonomics applies to any situation where people interact with objects in order to do their work. No two people are the same, so the same chair and desk height will never be suitable for a whole office. Ergonomics considers whether everything can be adjusted and placed so that it suits every individual.
When it comes to big construction or mining equipment, ergonomics considers whether people of all shapes, sizes and heights will be able to operate the equipment comfortably. “It’s all good and well to say that someone who’s a little shorter can still see out of the windscreen, but if they can only see
50 percent of what they need to see, then it’s pointless and dangerous – and definitely not ergonomic.
“Many people don’t realise that ergonomics plays a crucial role in helping their business function at 100-percent efficiency. In most cases, making small changes has really positive results. It is not necessary to overhaul the entire business overnight, but you definitely need to start somewhere as this is soon going to become an integral part of legislation in South Africa,” says Kennedy.
The good news is that companies can start off by making small steps in the right direction. Consultants – such as Ergomax – offer a variety of courses in ergonomics, and will work through the entire process with business owners to systematically streamline their operations to align with legislated ergonomic principles.
Keep your eye on future editions of SHEQ MANAGEMENT for more on this topic.