Literature Review On Ergonomics Evaluation Of A Product Or Service
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Ergonomics is a branch of science that deals with the way people interact with technology. Primarily, it deals with the safety and comfort of the user of a product or a service. Ergonomics is geared at improving the user experience without compromising on design quality and specification. Products with good ergonomics ensure against injury or accumulated fatigue that can cause long term or short effects on the user. To achieve this, a product should demand as little effort as possible from the user. Where inevitable, provisions are provided to mitigate the negative effects derived from the use of a product.
Ergonomics describes the aspects of a product in respect to comfort and lack of stress or injury infliction on the user. Ergonomics evaluation involves identifying ergonomic risk factors, quantifying them and then making appropriate changes and improvements to the product in line with specified standards. Products and services which do not meet specified ergonomic standards pose risk to the final users and it’s the manufacturer responsibility to ensure that a product prototype is comprehensively tested before mass production and release. A product can cause fatigue if poorly designed. Users of such products are likely to suffer injuries from continued use if no measures are taken to control the hazards involved. This is a paper on ergonomics and the development of an ergonomics evaluation program.
In the past 50 years, ergonomics have evolved into a discipline that deals with human-artifacts interactions. For this reason, ergonomics is sometimes referred to as human factors in design, engineering, technology, science, management and consumption of human-compatible products and services. Products that can be subjected to ergonomics evaluation range from synthetic and natural products, commercial processes, and environments. The international ergonomics association (IEA) details ergonomics as a discipline that deals with the way humans interacts with the elements of a product. The IEA also describes ergonomics as a profession that applies data, principles, theories and design in order to ensure human’s well-being and optimum system performance (Rogers & Cindy 12).
Figure 1: Diagram showing the different dimensions of ergonomics. Source: Ergonomics 45.
Ergonomists are involved in the design and testing of products, tasks, environments, jobs, and systems to ensure that they do not pose any appreciable harm to humans. They optimize the products in line with the abilities, limitations, and needs of the users. Ergonomics as a discipline promotes a holistic human oriented approach to design in line with physical, cognitive, social, environmental and organizational factors (Ergonomics 12).
The domain of physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomical, physiological, anthropometric, and biomechanical characteristics in relation to physical activities. Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes such as perception, information processing, memory, reasoning, and motor sensory responses as humans interact with physical systems and other humans in the direct environment. Organizational ergonomics also referred to as macro ergonomics pertains to the optimization of sociotechnical setups such as organizational structures, processes, and policies. Fields covered by organizational ergonomics include communication, resource management, scheduling working hours, planning for team participation, community ergonomics, virtual organizations, telework among others (Karwowski and William 66).
The paramount objective of ergonomics is to clearly understand the way humans interact and react to everything in their direct environment, and using that information to enhance human well-being and overall system performance. The National Academy of Engineering of the United States projects that future project deigns will aim for increased connection between humans and technology. This will raise the human experience by optimizing new products to the physical dimensions and capabilities of the users (Carter et al. 45).
In the past, ergonomics have been driven by reactive design. Technology is changing this by promoting proactive design. Technology can be broadly defined as systems of people, organizations, processes, knowledge, and devices used in the creation and operation of artifacts. Technology is the product of engineering and science. Science on the other hand seeks to answer the questions of why and how pertaining to nature through a series of scientific inquiries also referred to as research. Engineers shape and manipulate the natural world to make it satisfy human wants and desires. Engineering is the collective knowledge of designing and creating products and solving problems (Ergonomics 48).
Ergonomics is involved in exploring and applying the knowledge on human behavior, capabilities and limitations and other aspects in the design of products and services to ensure safe and comfortable human use. Ergonomics evaluation involves studying the effects of human-machine interactions and the way they affect performance and usability (Carter et al. 12).
Traditionally, the human-machine concept is an organization of people and machines aimed at accomplishing assigned tasks and duties. The Board of Certification of Professional Ergonomics (BCPE) defines the qualifications of an ergonomics practitioner as someone who has a mastery of ergonomics, thoroughly understands the methodologies used in application of ergonomics knowledge in design and production. Finally, such an individual should apply that knowledge in analysis, testing designs, and product and environments evaluation (Rogers and Cindy 66).
Summary: objectives of an ergonomics evaluation process
An ergonomic evaluation process is aimed at:
Improving product performance
Enhancing the ease of use
Raising the aesthetics of the product
Reducing losses in terms of time and equipment
The above are issues addressed by human factors in design. Originally, human factors focused primarily on machine-human interactions. This view has since then been broadened to incorporate human-technology interactions. This has led to “technological ecology” principle
whereby technology is developed in line with human and environmental considerations.
Since Ergonomics ensure the safety of the user of a product or service, human factors feature prominently in the design stage. The human factors are classified into two categories, anthropometric and posture (sitting and standing). These are detailed below:
differences in human body sizes
the use of the right anthropometrics for specific populations
the closeness of body joints to the neutral position
proximity of manual work done to the body
presence of forward bending or twisted bodily postures
presence of sudden jerky movements or exertion of force
variation in movements and postures involved
duration of continuous muscular effort required
Presence of sufficient breaks of enough length during performance of the task.
Energy consumption for each task involvd
Postural factors (sitting and standing)
Presence of alternation between sitting and standing or walking
Dependence of the work height on the task
Presence of an adjustable work height
Presence of excessive reaches
Presence of an adjustable seat and backrest
Presence of a footrest in case of a fixed work height
Presence of work height above the shoulders or working position with hands behind the body.
The above parameters must be considered to ensure workers using a product do not incur injuries, either through prolonged use or accidentally. A product with a good ergonomics design should require as little effort as possible from the user and ensure maximum comfort levels. Continued application of effort causes fatigue and strains the user.
The process of implementing an Ergonomics program
An ergonomics evaluation is carried through a program designed for a specific purpose or use. An evaluation program tailored for a particular product is primed to identify and assess probability of occurrence of hazards pertinent to the use of a product or a service. The first step in implementing an ergonomics program is defining its purpose. Ordinarily, the purpose of any ergonomics study is to reduce the probability of occurrence of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD’s) due the use of a product or a service (Ergonomics 89). This is achieved through identification of hazards and offering continued support and training in their resolution and mitigation. An ergonomics program is designed to identify, analyze and control MSD hazards. MSD’s are injuries which affect muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments, spinal disks, cartilage, and joints. MSDs disorders include:
Ulnar Nerve Impingement
Rotator cuff tear
Carpet layers knee
Low back pain
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
De Quervains’ disease
Shoulder Tendonitis, Bursitis, Impingement
The above MSDs disorders can be diagnosed through identification of several signs and symptoms caused by products with poor ergonomics. The signs and symptoms that ergonomic evaluators look for include:
Loss of muscle function
Inflammation and swelling
Redness and loss of color at point of contact
Persistent pains in the legs and arms
The goals of an ergonomics evaluation program
A sound ergonomics program seeks to:
Decrease or eliminate the risk of occurrence of ergonomic injuries among employees
Improve quality of work
Reduce compensation claims
Increase safety awareness
Raise the quality of work or a process
Improve morale of workers in a process
Tasks involved in an ergonomics evaluation process
Management leadership and stakeholders engagement
The management and leaders have to commit to a MSD prevention program. The management is then supposed to influence all the other stakeholders to commit to the program to ensure success.
Hazard identification (Risk factor)
The product or service is assessed for risk factors present. This involves identification of injury trends and signs and symptoms of harm incurred from the product or service.
Hazard analysis and control
An assessment is done where risks have been identified and the degree of exposure is determined. An action plan is then developed to combat the said risks.
A training program on ergonomics is developed and the leaders are trained on the process of risks identification and management. Also, all the other stakeholders are educated on MSD signs and symptoms and the appropriate control measures.
The ergonomics program should ensure that the product or service users who sustain MSDs get access to:
A mechanism for reporting and addressing signs and symptoms
Substitute product or service if recommended by the physician
Ergonomics program evaluation
A method of evaluating the effectiveness of the program and the risk control mechanisms is established. The effectiveness of the program is determined through the reduction of the signs and symptom of the MSDs caused by the product. Continued sustainable evaluation should be undertaken to ensure long term solutions are implemented ((Karwowski et al 48).
Conduction of an ergonomics evaluation process
The ergonomics programs implementation entails five steps:
Screening is done to ascertain the level of injury or harm caused due to the use of a system or a product. The ergonomics officer has to go the ground to manually collect data as he cannot rely on accident reports. The manner of use of the product or machine also has to be examined because injury can result from improper use or abuse, in which case the machine operator is at fault and not the machine itself. Data collection is aimed at identifying the risks and probability of occurrence (Karwowski et al 70).
Data analysis and assessment of risk factors
After identifying the risks, the high risk areas are identified. The risks areas are identified by brainstorming with the system users as risks are likely to vary from task to task. Other factors which are taken into account during a risk assessment process include work organization, physical layout, and type and condition of equipment. Risk analysis entails in depth review of injury history, data available before the site visit, and observations made during the site visit (Ergonomics 50).
After the risk assessment, recommendations on their remedial are made. The recommendations should be simple and achievable. Constraints that can hinder implementation of the recommendations should be considered, such as resources, support from the management, time and space limitations. Recommendations made are either engineering or management (Karwowski et al. 98).
Engineering Design changes
Engineering recommendations seek to change the way a job is done or physical modifications to a product, workplace or a procedure. Examples of engineering changes include changes in the initial design specifications due to alteration of particular parameters to match some specified standards. These kinds of changes are associated with high investment costs but are recouped in the long run due to low injury incidents. Low injuries reduce compensation claims in an industrial setup which is beneficial to a company’s resources and reputation.
Normally, engineering changes involves making changes to a system or a process so as to minimize applied effort and maximize comfort in a process. Continued application of an effort causes muscular strains which might not be noticeable but are cumulatively harmful. These kinds of change may range from automation, such as automatic gear shift cars, to addition of retrofits that enhance speed, ease, and comfort (Karwowski et al 74).
Administrative solutions involve changing the way an activity is done rather than making physical changes. These kinds of changes are apparent from watching a work routine. These include changing the schedules, introduction of breaks in between procedures, change in working postures between standing and sitting or change in the work environment. Administrative changes are quickly implemented and low costs are involved. Success requires continued enforcement and reinforcement. These kind of changes guarantee short term success but long term improvement is hard to achieve (Ergonomics 66).
Implementation of recommendations
Implementing of the recommendations involves changing the final product, service or process. There should be communication with all the concerned stakeholders to increase the chances of success. Training is done to educate the users on the improvements done and create awareness of other periphery issues such as the need for safety practices and change in workplace attitude. For major investment grade changes, an implementation team can be hired to oversee a seamless transition from the old system to the new one.
Monitoring and evaluation of program results
A system to evaluate and monitor the results should be established to ascertain the progress achieved by the program or the failure it has encountered. The monitoring and evaluation system is also instrumental in ensuring that all the recommendations made are fully implemented without failure and all the guidelines are followed. The system should have a method of data collection with defined discrete data according to the anticipated risks (Rosskam 32).
Ergonomics is an important aspect of a product, service, or industrial procedure. A product that does not guarantee comfort and safety to the consumers will quickly lose its allure regardless of its quality or durability. Therefore, ergonomics is an inherent quality that greatly contributes to the utility of a product. Designers cannot therefore ignore the ergonomics of a new product. For already existing products, proper risk assessment done through well-defined ergonomics programs should be used to assess the changes introduced. The indispensability of safety and comfort makes ergonomics paramount in any design process.
Carter, Gloria, et al. AAFA-OSHA Alliance Volume 2: A Guide to Implementing an Ergonomics Process. North Carolina, n.d. Web. 11 April 2015.
Rosskam, Ellen. Ergonomics. Geneva: ILO, Bureau for Workers' Activities, 1996. Print.
Ergonomics: 3. London [u.a.: Taylor & Francis, 2005. Print.
Ergonomics. Raleigh, NC: The Center, 1997. Print.
Ergonomics. Paris: Unesco, 1992. Print.
Karwowski, Waldemar, and William S. Marras. The Occupational Ergonomics Handbook. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press, 1999. Print.
Karwowski, Waldemar, et al. The Discipline of Ergonomics and Human Factors. University of Louisville, Kentucky. N.d. Web. 11 April 2015.
Rogers, Mark, and Cindy Moser. Ergonomics. Don Mills, Ont: Southam, 1996. Print.
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