The Anatomy of Ergonomics

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You are obviously familiar with the concept of ergonomics. But are you completely aware of what it entails and why we started to worry about having good ergonomics in the workplace?

The Origin of Ergonomics

Ergonomics is a Greek neologism, consisting of "ergon", meaning work and "nomos", meaning laws.

The word's origin can be traced back to 1857, when the Polish scientist Wojciech Jastrzębowski first used it. In the broadest sense, ergonomics thus has to do with the interior design of the workplace – both the physical environment, such as chairs, tables and screens, and the mental environment.

Disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, sociology and organizational science all form part of the basis of the ergonomics concept.

In general, ergonomics is about making people and physical elements work together in the best way possible. It was not until industrialization, which demanded higher productivity, that people began to think about ergonomics in their daily work, for example.

Danish masseuses fought to introduce t occupational gymnastics during working hours in the '50s. This was meant as one of the first means of preventing occupational injuries due to exhausting and repetitive work.

However, in the '60s, the working environment became a significant focus in Scandinavia, where the attention was on varying the tasks in the factories. More work has since moved in front of a screen during the years, so similarly has the ergonomic initiatives.

Read more about the interplay of work environment, work area and workstation.

An International Perspective

Securing proper ergonomics concerns both the prevention and treatment of work-related disorders, but European countries differ significantly in their emphasis on ergonomics and the tools in the workplace.

The Nordic countries have come a long way in ergonomics and have a long tradition of focusing on preventive measures. In particular, the countries have realized that occupational injuries are challenging to treat and that prevention, therefore, is crucial.

For this reason, they carry out annual workplace assessments and the name "safety representatives" among the employees.

Back to the Present

"Modern Ergonomics" is a branch of science that studies how the body functions and how to adapt a workplace to the human body's natural movements. Modern Ergonomics was born in the mid-'70s and still influences the design and production of furniture.

Mainly office furniture is characterized by the increasing focus on ergonomics in society. The rapid development of technology also has a significant influence on Modern Ergonomics, making it easier for companies to meet the needs of employees.

Depending on the industry, the concept of ergonomics can be perceived differently. If you work in an office and with a PC, emphasis is usually put on the interior design of your office space and the office furniture.

The same applies to employees in the health and education sector, whose work is now predominantly sedentary.

However, when it comes to more physical work at a factory or challenging outdoor work, the focus is on varying the physical working positions, proper techniques, and the tools relevant to the tasks.

Regardless of industry, the result is a happier and healthier employee, leading to more productivity and fewer healthcare costs.

Mini Encyclopedia of Ergonomics

  • MSD: Musculoskeletal Disorder (Muscle and Bone Disorders)
  • RSI: Repetitive Strain Injuries
  • Prophylactic ergonomic work: preventive ergonomic work
  • EGA: Unilaterally Repeated Work
  • OHS: Occupational Health Service