Technological progress that has taken place through the development of simple tools and the more complex ones has dramatically changed both the way we work and the environment in which we are able to work. Some organisations, for instance, allow their employees to work remotely from their homes while the development of protective clothing has enabled the possibility of working in harsher environments.
While ergonomics deals primarily with the interaction of humans and technology, the inclusion of the working environment adds to this important aspect. These changes have a physical, mental and psychological strain on the individual that effectively may decrease his or her performance at work as much as it can increase it. Thus, the field of ergonomics is concerned with the relationship between the individual and other elements of a system, and considers how systems may be improved while ensuring the well-being of each and every individual. In fact, the International Ergonomics Association (IEA) defines Ergonomics (or human factors) as follows, ‘the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among human and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance’ (Marshall, 2000, p 1939-40)
Thus, in an ergonomic assessment, we endeavour to identify potential risks not solely to prevent injuries, but also to advise on cost-effective solutions that improve the workplace environment to ensure greater well-being and increased job performance. This does not mean that our assessments would, in any way, hinder the introduction of technology, but rather aim to enhance the effective utilisation of the same technology for its designed purpose.
By way of illustration, if new machinery is introduced in a productive environment to increase output but the machine operation is generating unbearably loud noise, the result may very well be a reduction in overall system efficiency. Such noise may be reduced through re-engineering or sound insulation. If this is not possible and the noise being generated exceeds European Council’s established thresholds (as established in Directive 2003/10/EC Of The European Parliament And Of The Council of 6 February 2003), then the user of the machine may need hearing protection devices. This a very simple and straightforward example illustrating that environmental conditions and work practices do not naturally fit with the needs of humans in the workplace. A poor “person environment fit” results in strain which could potentially prevent employees from performing effectively. It may reduce employee well-being, worker commitment and engagement to the organisation and may additionally result in lower levels of job performance. According to Elzeiny (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 35, 746-756; 2002) good office design could stimulate employees’ productivity, and an improved workplace can boost employee productivity by as much as 19%. This is over and above the gains that can be achieved through the avoidance of repetitive stress injury-related sick leave.
It is for these reasons that at Equinox Advisory we advise our clients to perform regular ergonomic assessments to highlight the effects that technology and the working environment have on employee performance and well-being, and to ensure that employee productivity is being maintained over time. Such assessments require systemic methodical assessments.
Our expert advisory arm, underpinned by our experience in this field, will come up with recommendations for cost-effective, feasible solutions that will result in a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.