We recently drew a parallel between Ergonomic Products and Organic Products. When Uncaged Ergonomics was born, the word “ergonomic” did not roll off the tongue very smoothly. Over time, the ergonomic industry has grown and now we’re seeing adjectives like ergonomic design and ergonomic products attached as a key selling point to everything from vacuum cleaners to toasters.
The ergonomic industry seems to be mirroring the path of the more mature organic food marketplace. When the word organic was hatched to describe foods grown in a purportedly healthier environment, it often conjured images of being expensive, possibly better for you with a questionable net value added to your life.
As more research, studies, and comparisons were completed, we’ve obtained a better understanding about how food can be produced in a healthier way. The cost of organic products decreased—and in general there seem to be healthier attributes associated with organic food production.
Our comparison of organic and ergonomic makes us wonder how ergonomic design will further affect the office supply market in the future:
- Will consumers opt for ergonomic workstations over traditional fixed office furniture?
- Will the price gap between ergonomic office furniture and traditional office products narrow?
- Will researchers release studies touting benefits of ergonomic workstations?
Office ergonomics evolution
Ergonomics programs traditionally depended on site “experts” who typically were EHS (environmental, health, and safety) staff members. That model has changed. Successful organizations expand ownership, involvement, and accountability for ergonomics to people outside the EHS staff.
The accepted practices for addressing office ergonomics in the 1980s, for example, were in-person evaluations, chair fitting rooms, lots of custom solutions for each person, and classroom training. Thirty years later, we are a bit smarter:
- There is less dependency on in-person assessments.
- Workstations and chairs have a full range of adjustability.
- Office workstation design is based on computer use.
- Employee training focuses on enabling people to assess and adjust their own workstations.
Employee involvement and management leadership are two critical elements of safety and environmental management systems; they are also critical components of a successful ergonomics process. Team members can adjust their own workstations, or become members of an ergonomics or safety team involved in assessing and improving conditions. Many companies establish and train employee teams to obtain the skills to conduct assessments and make workplace changes to improve ergonomics.
Office ergonomics is increasingly mainstream
Employee-driven assessments and workplace changes are one of biggest trends in managing office ergonomics. By providing online training and self-assessments, employers are enabling and empowering their employees to be proactive in adjusting their workstations to fit them. The use of online office ergonomics software, tools and equipment has increased significantly in recent years.
Consistently addressing ergonomics in the design phase of new processes, equipment, layouts, and products is a common practice of advanced organizations. They are able to achieve this by using standard design guidelines for ergonomics and a system for holding engineers accountable for quality.
The greatest value of forward-looking design is the reduced cost of making changes. The cost of changing equipment and layout once it is in place is more than 1,000 times the cost of the initial design phase.
Progressive leading companies have integrated design criteria in their phase gate review process and hold projects and people accountable for designing workplaces and tasks with low exposure to MSD risk factors. At Uncaged Ergonomics, that’s our number one goal.