skip to main content

What is Ergonomics?

Image of headliner assembly for ergonomics

Hearing the word ergonomic, you might think of expensive computer chairs designed to eliminate back pain. Physical ergonomics is a large contributor to the work environment. However, ergonomics is entirely more complex and applicable to multiple aspects of manufacturing that benefit the bottom line. 


What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely;” defined by Merriam-Webster

Above all, manufacturers aim for a highly efficient and safe work environment. Therefore, it stands to reason that ergonomics is critical to the success of an organization.


Types of Ergonomics

There are three types of ergonomics: physical, cognitive, and organizational. Each of these contributes not only to organizational success but also to worker satisfaction and the bottom line. 


Physical Ergonomics

Physical ergonomics is the most commonly known form of ergonomics, and for good reason. It deals with the physical load on the human body when performing activities. Knowing physical ergonomics and how to integrate it heavily influences on-site safety. 

Usually, if disregarded workers can develop musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 30% of all manufacturing worker injury and illness cases resulted from MSDs. OSHA states that they “affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons… which can increase a worker’s risk of injury.” 

Awkward body positioning, reaching overhead, and consistently repeating similar tasks are a few of the activities that OSHA identifies as causes of MSDs. 

As work instructions are designed, it is important to limit these risks by understanding who will be using the instructions. The Ergonomic Systems Associates (ESA) identified some of the different needs for workstation construction based on the worker’s specific needs and the materials or items they are working on. 

For example, the following image shows how high a standing workstation should be based on the weight of the material or item being worked on. 

image of ergonomic standing desk


Cognitive Ergonomics

Cognitive ergonomics is the method of designing and arranging information and data to create a light cognitive load. 

Perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response all affect how someone interacts with and performs their work. A higher cognitive workload causes more stress on the worker. 

Paper work instructions are one example of increased cognitive workload, as they require memorization and focus. A worker has to look from the paper to their work; cognitively connect the written steps to the movements needed to complete the task, complete the task, and then ensure that it was correct. 

Simplified work instructions that place the right information in the right place and at the right time lessen the cognitive load.

Projected work instructions, for example, break steps down into digestible bits of information. The step instruction is overlaid onto the part, requiring no memorization. Then, during the work, projected work instructions can direct workers to the exact needs of the task (say aligning a part to a precise position). Finally, audible and visual confirmations ensure quality and completion. 

This also opens more opportunities for workers with cognitive disabilities or general difficulty completing tasks to engage in value-added work.

Overall, workers do not need to focus on the instructions steps and can move their focus to safety, continuous improvement efforts, quality, or simply finishing the task. 


Organizational Ergonomics

Organizational ergonomics combines the knowledge gained from other areas of the factory, like physical and cognitive ergonomics, to optimize safety and efficiency across the entire organization. 

Business Wire explained that “this entails finding ways to optimize teamwork, improve communications, increase output and bolster the overall quality of a product.”

This can show itself in many ways; standardized training, unified data storage through the cloud, or lean manufacturing techniques. 


Fully Optimizing Efficiency and Safety

Ergonomics is more than just a way to relieve back pain. Understanding the three different types provides greater insight into the complex work environment of the modern, mature factory floor. 

Leading manufacturers are prioritizing ergonomics and rearranging their workplace and their relationships with their workers. By doing this, they gain increased worker satisfaction, quality, and efficiency, and ultimately, a greater bottom line. 


Learn how to implement ergonomics into your workplace by contacting us

eBook | Augmented Reality (AR) Applications on the Factory Floor


Learn how Immersive Technology can Transform your Manufacturing Programs.

Download eBook