Ergonomic Principles

Last updated: September 3, 2020

What Does Ergonomic Principles Mean?

Ergonomic principles are the key ideas that underlie the behaviors that workers should practice in order to avoid ergonomic injuries, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). It is a non-standardized term, but commonly refers to ensuring that the tools and methods that a worker uses are a safe match to their physical capabilities.

Prominent ergonomic principles include: Use of neutral posture, rotating tasks to avoid overwork of muscles/other tissues, use of proper handholds and proper gripping technique, and proper lifting/carrying/pushing/pulling procedures. Depending on the context, discussions of ergonomic principles may also include principles of cognitive ergonomics, which deal with how to approach tasks in a manner that reduces cognitive stress and resultant errors.

Safeopedia Explains Ergonomic Principles

The use of ergonomic principles is an important aspect of workplace health and safety. In the United States, ergonomic injuries—which usually come in the form of musculoskeletal disorders—cost between $15 and $20 billion per-year. If the injury does not rise to the level of requiring treatment or time off, it will still impose a cost in the form of lowered productivity.

In this context, then, workplace ergonomic principles can be understood as being a set of principles designed to reduce the risk of ergonomic injury to as low as reasonably practicable. For employers, considering ergonomic principles means ensuring that all workplace equipment and task schedules are designed so that each worker can operate in a manner that matches their individual capabilities. In an office, this could mean ensuring that chairs and keyboards are ergonomically friendly, while on a construction site it could mean designing schedules to include task switching.

Regulations related to the use of ergonomic principles vary widely between jurisdictions. In the United States, OSHA is forbidden from issuing any ergonomic standards; however, a number of states (e.g., California) have standards which require employers to use ergonomic principles in order to minimize hazards. The European Union has a general ergonomics rule, and multiple Canadian provinces also have standards or regulations in-place.

In most regulatory contexts, the use of ergonomic principles is typically an employer-centric obligation: Employers must give employees the tools, ability, and work environment to complete in-line with ergonomic principles; however, they do not necessarily need to provide training or oversight to ensure that those principles are followed. The exception to this is when those ergonomic principles are a key aspect of job design; for example, an employee cannot choose to ignore standards which limit how long they can do manual labor in extreme temperatures.



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