Ergonomics in the Workplace Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

dangers or working in factory settings, assembly lines and other blue collar settings has been known. There were dangers in machinery, solvents and other aspects of such positions that posed problems for the businesses that needed them to produce. It has only been in recent years that the affect of white collar duties has begun to surface as well. Those who use computer keyboards or sit at desks for extended periods of time are at risk for several disorders including the well-known carpal tunnel syndrome. Because of these workplace injury situations the term "workplace ergonomics" has become a popular buzzwords. Workplace ergonomics create a workplace design meant to enhance the natural flow of the body and positioning. This is believed to alleviate stress on body parts and allow a more comfortable and therefore more productive environment. This proposed study will measure the effectiveness of ergonomic design on productivity in the workplace.


Recently there has been an explosion of ergonomic designing of workstations for the purpose of providing a more conducive and productive work environment. The buzzwords are all around including ergonomic, RTS, carpal tunnel and others. These words go along with the general idea that it is important to design workstations ergonomically for the most positive impact on the workers as well as the bottom line. The need for the ergonomically designed workstation has provided opportunities for profits in the way of ergonomic consultants, designers, office equipment and other tools of the new trade.

The purpose of this study is to determine the impact ergonomically designed workstations have on productivity in the workplace. The study will address the question: "Do ergonomically designed workstations have a positive impact on the productivity of the workers?" The hypothesis is that ergonomically designed offices provide a positive impact on the productivity of businesses that provide them.

This study is important to the business world because it is investing money in designing ergonomically cohesive workstations and it is important to know if doing so is productive. This study is also important in the determination of what aspects of ergonomics are working based on the study results. This study is not only timely it is relatively unique as the topic of ergonomics is relatively new and there have not been many studies done as of yet on its success or failure. This study will produce the results by which future decisions can be made in office and workstation design. This study will be conducted using a survey method to measure the success of ergonomically designed work stations and offices. While a study using a survey method is not new this particular topic has not been explored to any great depth.

This study will primarily focus on the impact that ergonomics has on the bottom line through a study of absences and leaves of absences due to work related injuries and disorders. The study will not try and assess the impact of ergonomically designed workstations from the stand point of at work productivity as this is a subjective assessment. The tangible proof of work related injuries, or disorders, or inability to do a job because of injuries will provide results that will be more reliable as pure and true to the question.

The study will also self limit to work situations that are commonly considered white collar including offices, engineers, attorneys and others who do not work in the factory or manufacturing setting. The study will include some professions outside of the office to be able to test the ergonomic theory in several different settings.

The limitations of this study include the inability to represent the total population and the population restrictiveness. The inability to represent the total population will be because the study will be sent only to those who work in the right settings such as offices. This study criteria will ignore an entire population of workers who work outside of the study criteria professions.


While there has been very little research on the actual bottom line in ergonomic offices and work spaces there have been studies regarding specific aspects of tools that are used for its purpose. One such study examined the time that was required for work related injuries as related to rehabilitation efforts while the injured worker was off for that injury (Foreman, 1996).

It is a commonplace to note that the amount of time to return to employment, following an injury or other compensable condition incurred through employment, cannot be fully predicted from knowledge of the type and extent of the injury or condition. Empirical research (see reviews by Hood & Downs 1985; Hester, Decelles & Keepper 1989; Tate 1992) has identified a range of demographic, individual, social and occupational factors related to vocational outcome (Foreman, 1996). However simply listing such variables tells us little about the process of return to work, or how, for example, personal characteristics might interact with organizational variables such as type of rehabilitation service or employer behavior, or even how characteristics of the person such as age or sex, affect behaviors or decisions of key parties that in turn lead to certain employment status outcomes (Foreman, 1996)."

The study took 32 public sector employees who were receiving pay for work related disability due to injuries and researched the time off of work that was needed with and without being able to return to voice activated work tools (Foreman, 1996).

Although the findings of this pilot study provide strong support for the hypothesis that the concepts of valence and expectancy predict return-to-work outcome within a sample of workers' compensation clients, the results need to be interpreted with some caution given that the design precluded strict control of injury and other client variables that could potentially influence return-to-work outcomes (Foreman, 1996). Notwithstanding this, the results do suggest the importance of assessing individuals' work related beliefs as part of any comprehensive rehabilitation assessment (Foreman, 1996)."

Another study involved the use of voice activated technology and how effective it was for those who needed it. Voice activated keyboards eliminate the possibility of repetitive work injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries that can be caused by the continued and repeated use of a keyboard (Scott, 1996).

In the past 40 years, researchers have been trying to overcome the constraints of speaker-dependent and speaker-independent voice-input systems. To use speaker-dependent systems, each new user must be trained separately. In the training session, the user trains the software program to recognize his or her voice, usually by speaking a small sample of words into a microphone, which acts as an interface input device to the computer. These spoken words are stored in the database's voice file, allowing the computer to match words when a document is dictated, such as a business letter (Reedy, 1979; Witten, 1980). "

Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are among the fastest growing occupational injuries in the workplace. RSIs often occur when individuals engage in repetitious work in uncomfortable working conditions (Guidotti, 1992; Ubois, 1992). With the proper training on voice-input equipment, however, individuals who have sustained RSIs from use of keyboards will be able to re-enter the workforce (Scott, 1996). Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is an RSI caused by continual and often rapid typing and resulting in a numbness or tingling feeling in the fingers and wrists. Occupation-related CTS injuries have increased the costs of workers' compensation and absenteeism in many businesses (Scott, 1996). As noted by Franklin et al. (1991), the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries reported that, from 1984 to 1988, workers' compensation claims increased from 1.78 to 2.0 per 1,000 full-time work equivalents. This increase was primarily a result of repetitive-motion-type injuries (Scott, 1996). In addition, lawsuits against firms such as IBM and Apple Computer have been filed alleging defective keyboard design (Scott, 1996). Thus, the transition from using the keyboard to using voice input should result in fewer lawsuits and workers' compensation claims associated with hand-wrist motion. The technology could also benefit a large percentage of the population who lack keyboarding skills (Scott, 1996). "

Ergonomics are specifically designed to prevent work place injuries which can be extremely costly to the business industry:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the embattled ergonomics workplace rules are necessary because:

1.8 million workers report work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and 600,000 cases are serious enough for workers to miss work.

4.6 million injuries would be prevented in the first 10 years.

102 million workers at 6.1 million work sites will be protected.

Businesses will realize $9.1 billion average annual savings.

Cost to employers is $4.5 billion a year. (Business groups say regulations will cost more than $90 billion a year.)

Fixing an individual work station will average only $250 a year. (Business groups contend the rules would be quite complicated to implement, requiring major other outlays.) (Glance, 2001) "

According to experts ergonomics will improve productivity (Worker, 1995).

Another change ergonomics is bringing to the workplace is a change in management philosophy. Solving production problems no longer involves just…

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