An imbalance between the individual, the task and the environment can lead to discomfort, errors, accidents and injury in the workplace. Dr Jennifer Long, Optometrist and Certified Professional Ergonomist, who will be speaking at the upcoming Safety in Action 2014: Sydney Safety Conference this September in Sydney, joined us recently to share with us some insight into how ergonomics measure workplace safety and help to reduce the rate of workplace injuries.
How can following ergonomics principles help to reduce the rate of workplace injuries?
Jennifer: The goal of ergonomics is to achieve a balance between the capabilities of an individual and the demands of the task/environment. If there is an imbalance between these elements, then this can lead to discomfort, errors, accidents and injury.
Many people associate ergonomics with workstation design, so using this definition, the goal would be to ensure that workstation furniture is the correct size for the person and equipment is appropriately arranged so that the person can use it easily and efficiently.
These principles can be used for a whole host of workplace scenarios. For example, that there is enough light for a person to be able to see and not trip over a hazard, that information is presented in such a way that a person can comprehend it easily, that work is structured so that fatigue-related accidents don’t occur.
In your experience, what are some of the “ergonomic hazards” that you have seen?
Jennifer: There are lots of hazards and risks in every day working life. I think one of the greatest problems is when people are aware that a task or procedure is unsafe or that their posture is causing discomfort, but they “soldier on” hoping that the problem will go away. Usually it doesn’t, and this can result in severe or chronic injuries.
The terms “human factors” and “ergonomics” are often used interchangeably. What are the key differences between ergonomics and human factors?
Jennifer: Ergonomics has its origins in the physical sciences, and is usually associated with physical aspects of work, such as musculoskeletal discomfort, lighting and slips, trips and falls. This is often referred to as “physical ergonomics”.
Human factors has its origins in the psychological sciences, and is usually associated with how we perceive and process information, stress and fatigue. This is often referred to as “cognitive ergonomics” and “organizational ergonomics”.
An ergonomist has training in the three domains of ergonomics – physical, cognitive and organizational ergonomics. Although an ergonomist may have an interest or expertise in one or two domains, the three domains are usually inter-related, with contributing factors from each of these domains in any one “ergonomic hazard”.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia includes the two names within its title to cater for professionals who identify with one name or another. But whichever name an ergonomist/human factors professional chooses to adopt, the end goal is the same: to achieve a balance between the capabilities of the individual and the demands of the work environment.
You will be speaking at the upcoming Safety in Action conference in Sydney. What is the key message you would like to deliver to event stakeholders?
Jennifer: I will be giving a presentation and short workshop on ergonomic assessment tools. I hope attendees will come away from the conference with an understanding of the three domains of ergonomics and be able to use some of the practical tips I will be sharing to identify ergonomic hazards in the workplace.
What are you most looking forward to at this event?
Jennifer: I am looking forward to networking with colleagues from a wide range of professional backgrounds and experience – and catching up with friends and colleagues, some of whom I haven’t seen since last year’s Safety in Action conference.
Join Jennifer and many other industry professionals at the Safety in Action 2014: Sydney Safety Conference for two days of knowledge sharing and networking. For detailed conference program and to register, please visit the Sydney Safety Conference website.
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