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7 min read

Ergonomics at the workstation - definition & examples for preventive occupational health and safety

Ergonomics is more and more included in the language use of many companies as it deals with the performance, health and safety of employees. Many work activities and work environments are nowadays studied and optimised under ergonomic criteria, with the aim of reducing health hazards and at the same time increasing performance.

In this article, we give a general overview of the topic of ergonomics in an industrial context, answer theoretical questions and take a look at practical implementation. You will learn what constitutes ergonomic work design and how you can design ergonomic working conditions for your employees.

 

Content

Theoretical questions

Answers from practice

 

What is ergonomics?

The word ergonomics is composed of the Greek words "ergon" (for "work") and "nomos" (for "law") and describes the science of human work. The science of work aims to design a workstation in such a way that people can work optimally.

Optimal work means:

  • Effective (= The work result meets the requirements)
  • Efficient (= The work task was completed with the available resources)
  • and satisfactory (= Healthy and safe work, also fun to work)

As in the field of occupational health and safety, the prevention of damage caused by heavy, incorrect or excessively stressful work has top priority. The goal is the optimal adaptation of working conditions to people and a human-centred design of work (see also Human-centred design according to DIN EN ISO 9241-210).

In short: ergonomics supports working people in completing a work task.

The laws of ergonomics also play a decisive role in the design of machines and man-machine interfaces (= interactions between technology and people). 

In order to achieve the above-mentioned goals, workplace design is divided into two sub-areas:

 

1. Physical ergonomics - environment and activities

Physical ergonomics is what most people probably understand by the term ergonomics. The design of equipment and the design of the working environment. 

This includes criteria such as:

  • Working heights
  • Reach and working areas
  • Lighting
  • Noise
  • Climate (temperature and humidity)
  • Vibrations
  • Substrates (floor)

The body movements (e.g. turning or bending) and activities (e.g. lifting or pushing) themselves, which a worker performs, for example, are also part of physical or physiological ergonomics. These play an important role in the calculation of ergonomic key figures and are part of anthropometry (= science of body measurements), where safety measures such as minimum distances or maximum opening widths are defined.


To be able to assess whether an activity is ergonomic, the following aspects are important:

  1. the posture
  2. the body movements (= activities)
  3. the weight of the workpiece or load carrier
  4. the number of repetitions, as well as
  5. the duration of the posture

Employee works at an ergonomic height and in a healthy posture at a BeeWaTec workstation

 

2. Cognitive ergonomics - the human psyche

Psychological factors can also have a major impact on the health of employees as well as on the quality of work.

These include aspects such as:

  • Satisfaction
  • Motivation
  • Multi tasking
  • Change of workload
  • Monotony
  • Fatigue
  • Stress

Monotonous work, for example, has a negative effect on attention and perception. The susceptibility to errors increases and employees tire more quickly, which makes them dissatisfied in the long run.

Multitasking and high (physical or mental) demands, on the other hand, increase the stress level. When there is a lot of stress or prolonged stress, motivation decreases and so does performance. In addition, the risk of (long-term) damage to health increases (e.g. burnout).

What many people forget, however, is the fact that people need a certain level of activation in order to be able to perform. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, both underchallenge (e.g. through monotony) and overchallenge (e.g. through stress) are equally bad for productivity. Therefore, it is recommended to strive for an ideal balance."

Note:

The perception of mental stress is subjective and thus differs from person to person.Keep this in mind if you work in work preparation or process optimisation, for example, and design workstation systems or work processes. Consider changing activities (= job rotation), a (re)division of work steps or further relief in order to maintain the motivation and health of your colleagues.

Employee assembling a wheel in the BeeWaTec production hall

 

What are the aims of ergonomics?

Ergonomics has three core objectives:

  1. The enhancement of human performance
  2. The preservation of human health
  3. The guarantee of human safety

Through preventive occupational safety and the ergonomic design of workstations, work environments and activities, the above-mentioned goals can be achieved. More efficient processes, a reduction in occupational illnesses and many other benefits are the result"

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of ergonomics?

In summary: Performance, health and safety on the one hand (= pro) contrast with costs and time expenditure on the other (= con).

 

Advantages of ergonomics

Ergonomic measures provide support in all areas of daily life. In industry, both employers and employees benefit from a variety of positive effects:

The 7 advantages of ergonomics at a glance - BeeWaTec Blog

  • Healthy employees (physically and mentally)
  • Higher employee satisfaction
  • Reduction of sick leave (especially when performing the same job over a long period of time)
  • Less absenteeism
  • Higher performance and work productivity
  • Increased quality of work results
  • Decreased error rates
  • Optimised use of available space 
  • Optimised workflow through ergonomic provision of materials, work equipment and information
  • Economic success of the company (in the long term)

 

Disadvantages of ergonomics

  • Initial expenditure of time and costs for planning ergonomic workplace systems, processes and activities (= work organisation)
  • Continuous expenditure of time and costs for the measurement and analysis of ergonomic criteria (continuous improvement process / CIP)

 

Workstation design - When is a workstation ergonomic?

A workstation is considered ergonomic if it has been assessed and designed in accordance with the principles of occupational health and safety, taking into account both physical and mental aspects.

The assessment and design of the work includes:

  • a detailed analysis of work tasks and times (Ex: work process-time analyses such as MTM (Methods-Time Measurement)).
  • the measurement of postures and body movements (e.g.: stress analyses such as EAWS (Ergonomic Assesment Worksheet))
  • the selection of tools and equipment, and
  • the implementation of effective solutions that reduce the burden of fatigue or overload.

The REFA management system (REFA - Verband für Arbeitsgestaltung, Betriebsorganisation und Unternehmensentwicklung e. V.) is a systematic approach to assessing and improving ergonomics in any workplace. It helps identify risk factors related to awkward postures, repetitive movements and heavy lifting, which can then be eliminated through appropriate measures.

The end result is an ergonomic workplace that not only reduces the risk of injury, but also improves employee satisfaction, productivity and the overall quality of working life.

Basically, the measurement of ergonomics can be done by assessing these four criteria.

1. Safety

Safety measures include the assessment of physical conditions, such as the layout of the workplace, the placement of work equipment and the design of tasks.

2. Efficiency

Efficiency measures assess how quickly tasks are completed and how much energy is  consumed during a task.

3. Comfort

Comfort measures assess the posture of employees during a task and the physical strain.

4. Performance

Finally, performance measurement assesses how well employees are able to perform their tasks with minimal errors.

To get an accurate assessment of workplace ergonomics, it is best to collect data from a variety of sources, such as job analysis surveys, biomechanical assessments and usability tests. This data can then be analysed to identify possible ergonomic improvements that can be implemented for greater efficiency and satisfaction for all employees"

Our practical tip for your ergonomics analysis:

Before you spend a lot of time and money on complex analyses, we recommend that you draw on your experience with existing workstations and thus conduct a simple survey of your colleagues.

Our experience shows that they will be able to give you comprehensible and practice-oriented optimisation potentials right off the bat. They know exactly which postures are uncomfortable, which work steps represent an unnecessary workaround, or which SLC containers are too heavy.

An open exchange is essential, because in the end you design the workplaces for exactly these people. 

Involving the employees in the design of new workplaces can already eliminate a large part of the problems (e.g.: unfavourable sitting posture, back problems, high error rate, etc.). At the same time, you sensitise everyone in your company by addressing ergonomic issues.

We have prepared a checklist with questions for your colleagues for this purpose.

 

Preview of the checklist "Ergonomics at the workplace" by BeeWaTec

Download ergonomics checklist

With our free checklist you have the ideal tool for an efficient (re)design of your workstations and equipment.

Download checklist

 

 

8 tips for ergonomic workstation design in industry

Especially in industry, the topic of ergonomics plays a central role, as many, often physical activities or work processes are repeated over long periods of time (many hours a day, over weeks, months and years).

Using principles of lean production and lean solutions from BeeWaTec, ergonomics in the workplace can be increased easily and cost-effectively. Our modular system of tube plug-in systems, lift sets, lights and many other accessories form the optimal basis for this.

Our tips:

  1. Integrate height adjustment (e.g.: equip or retrofit assembly workstations with lifting systems)
  2. Supply material (flexibly) (e.g.: link flow racks or conveyor lines directly to the workstation)
  3. Provide (flexible) work equipment (e.g. swivelling support arms or rails for tools)
  4. Provide information (e.g.: use of monitors, whiteboards or worker assistance systems)
  5. Integrate ergonomic workstation lighting (e.g.: attach adjustable, swivelling LED lights with adaptable illuminance directly to the workstation)
  6. Reduce noise (e.g. use of low-noise roller rails and wheels)
  7. Use colour concepts and colour coding (e.g.: use coloured KLT bins for different areas or customers)
  8. Integrate physical relief for employees (e.g.: use of shelving systems with rocker or shooter function)

You can find a detailed description with many more examples of our tips in our article "8 tips for ergonomic workplace design in industry".

To the detailed report >

 

Ergonomic workstation (BeeWaTec) for production with open fronted storage bins and flexible holders for material and tools

 

How the BeeWaTec construction kit contributes to more ergonomics at the workstation

What unites all BeeWaTec products is flexibility. With a finely tuned modular system for lean production, we bring everything you need to design ergonomic workstations and implement your ergonomic requirements.

  • Pipe racking systems are 100% flexible and ensure individual and human-adapted operating equipment. The solutions can be adapted at any time to changing requirements, conditions or wishes of employees.
  • Castors ensure mobile equipment (vs. lifting and carrying away); special running surfaces reduce noise (e.g.: tugger trains).
  • Roller tracks enable material to be moved on automatically. Without having to reach far into the rack, the container can be gripped ergonomically at the front of the rack.
  • Workstation lights ensure good illumination of the working environment and thus promote the ability to concentrate.
  • Lifting systems allow easy and quick adjustment of the working height
  • Lightweight materials, such as BEESave or aluminium profiles, reduce the strain of manually pulling or pushing equipment such as material trolleys
  • Ergonomic workstation mats are gentle on the joints and ensure stable footing, especially in damp working environments
  • Karakuri applications (= low-cost automation) support the provision of material and automate processes
  • Shooter systems enable an automated exchange of containers without having to move all containers manually.
  • Attachments such as holders and swivelling support arms ensure flexible provision of work equipment, materials and information (e.g. monitor holder)
  • Flexible shelving systems provide containers at ergonomic heights. Products with a high throughput should be stored at "ergonomic heights", less frequented products "above or below".
  • Surface-mounted solutions made of pipe racking systems can be adapted to existing workstations (e.g.: superstructure for ergonomic workplace lights or balancers))

Your personal BeeWaTec contact will be happy to advise you on our products for more ergonomics.

00126843_Workstations_Web_01_01

 

Conclusion on the subject of ergonomics

Ergonomics is an important adjusting screw for more health, safety and performance at the workstation (see also Occupational Health and Safety Act). Ergonomics is not only concerned with physical aspects but also with people's psyche, as this also has an influence on the quality of work.

A mix of methods can be used to record and evaluate ergonomics at the workplace. The REFA management system offers a systematic guideline for this. As a further aid, you can start quickly and easily with a survey of your colleagues and identify many potentials for optimisation.

There are 8 important tips to consider when redesigning operating equipment (e.g.: feeding material and information). With the BeeWaTec construction kit you have the ideal prerequisite for the ergonomic design of workplaces and the implementation of your ergonomic requirements.

To the ergonomics checklist >

 

You already have a specific project?

As one of the leading providers of lean equipment construction and lean production, we support you with flexible hardware and know-how. Discover the possibilities of our modular system and benefit sustainably from more ergonomics and flexibility.

Start a project now >

 

Need some more inspiration?

In our showroom you will find many clever solutions and successful projects. Take advantage of our experience for your workstation design. We will be happy to support you.

Showroom

PC mockup from the BeeWaTec showroom

 

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