The Bare Basics: What is Ergonomics All About?

The Bare Basics: What is Ergonomics All About?

Most people have heard of ergonomics and think it is something to do with seating or with the design of car controls and instruments—and it is, but it is so much more. Ergonomics applies to the design of anything that involves people—workspaces, sports and leisure, health, and safety.

What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics (say “er-guh-NOM-iks”) is the study of the kind of work you do, the environment you work in, and the tools you use to do your job. The goal of office ergonomics is to set up your work space so that it fits you and the job you are doing.

Defined as the science of fitting a workplace to the user’s needs, ergonomics aims to increase efficiency and productivity and reduce discomfort. Ergonomics aims to learn about human abilities and limitations, and then apply this learning to improve people’s interaction with products, systems, and environments.

Ergonomics is about designing for people.

Ergonomics’ intent is to improve workspaces and environments to minimize risk of injury or harm. So as technologies change, so too does the need to ensure that the tools we access for work, rest, and play are designed for our body’s requirements.

Altering tasks, workstations, and equipment to fit the worker can help reduce physical stress on the body and possibly eliminate many potentially serious, disabling work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Ergonomics is a relatively new branch of science which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2019 but relies on research carried out in many scientific disciplines such as engineering and physiology. To achieve best practice design, Ergonomists use the data and techniques of several disciplines:

  • Anthropometry: The study of human body measurements. Used in developing design standards and requirements for manufactured products to ensure they are suitable for the intended audience.
  • Biomechanics: A scientific and engineering field that explains the characteristics of biological system—the human body—in mechanical terms.
  • Environmental Physics: The branch of physics concerned with the measurement and analysis of interactions between organisms and their environment such as noise, light, heat, cold, radiation, vibration body systems; hearing, vision, and sensations.
  • Applied Psychology: The use of psychological methods and findings of scientific psychology to solve practical problems of human and animal behavior and experience like skills, learning, errors, and differences.
  • Social Psychology: The branch of psychology that deals with social interactions, including their origins and their effects on the individual – how people interact groups, communicate, learn and behave.
  • Kinesiology: the study of the mechanics of body movements.

Why is Ergonomics important?

Employees may have exposure to undue physical stress, strain, and overexertion, including awkward postures, and repetitive motion—if tasks and equipment do not include ergonomic principles in their design. An essential first step in correcting hazards and improving worker protection is recognizing ergonomic risk factors in the workplace. 

Ergonomists, industrial engineers, occupational safety and health professionals, and other trained individuals believe that reducing physical stress in the workplace could eliminate up to half of the serious injuries each year. Doing so would reduce absenteeism, and lower health care costs. Employers can anticipate what might go wrong and alter the work environment to make the job easier and safer for their employees.

Why are Ergonomics important at work?

It is in everyone’s best interest to apply ergonomics to the workplace. Poor working conditions impact both employees and employers physically and economically. Ergonomic furniture, tools, and aids can be a hefty investment, but those investments can be well worth it over time. Effective workplace ergonomics help create a healthier workplace, which in turn can boost employee engagement.

When your workstation is set up right, you may:

  • Be less likely to have problems such as headaches or eyestrain.
  • Reduce neck and back pain.
  • Prevent bursitis or tendon problems that are linked to doing the same task over and over (repetitive tasks).

Why should your work area be ergonomic?

Injury and illness can happen at work, and both can cost you and your employer time and money. An illness or injury is also going to affect how well you can perform your job or if you can perform your job at all. Office ergonomics allows you to be more comfortable and productive at work. It can help lower stress and injury caused by awkward positions and repetitive tasks, by keeping your body in neutral positions and equipment in easy to use locations.

Office ergonomics addresses:

  • Your workstation setup, how you sit, and how long you stay in one position.
  • How you do a certain task, the kinds of movements you make, and whether you make the same movements over and over.
  • Your work area, including light, noise, and temperature.
  • The tools you use to do your job and whether they are set up to fit your needs.


The best ergonomic products improve productivity and employee engagement. Poor workplace ergonomics leads to fatigue, aches and pains, and injury. When employees are physically uncomfortable, they won’t perform well—and they may even begin cutting corners, which could put product quality at risk. Companies that incorporate products like ergonomic computer desks into their offices demonstrate that they care about their employees, proving that their health and well-being are important. Savvy companies know that it pays to improve workplace ergonomics. It’s not just an employee perk—it’s a tangible benefit that enhances employee’s lives.

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