In This Section

News and Articles



Q&A: Why Ergonomics Should Be at the Forefront of Worker Safety and Well-Being

Sep 06, 2023

Tempura/E+/GettyImagesThis interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ergonomic injuries comprise 33% of all worker injury and illness cases in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Improving workplace ergonomics not only supports worker health and well-being, but also productivity and product quality.

Anuja Patil, CSP, CPE, administrator of our Ergonomics Practice Specialty, recently joined “The Case for Safety Podcast” and spoke with host Scott Fowler about the importance of ergonomics in the workplace and steps safety professionals can take to improve conditions for workers.

Fowler: Why is it important for employers to prioritize proper ergonomics to ensure the safety and well-being of their workforce?

Patil: By designing workspaces and tasks that align with the human body's natural mechanics, we can reduce strain, fatigue and the risk of long-term health issues by eliminating a lot of wasteful motion.

We also improve process efficiency and decision-making, which helps us reduce errors and improve the quality of the tasks we perform and the products being made. A safe and healthy workforce is a motivated and efficient workforce.

Fowler: Which hazards and risks are associated with poor ergonomics?  

Patil:  It's not just about discomfort — it's a cascade of risk that can impact worker health, product quality and efficiency. First and foremost, the well-being of the workers is compromised. Poor ergonomics at workstations can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, strains or chronic pain. These physical discomforts can escalate into serious health issues over time, which can also lead to stress, decrease morale and negatively influence mental health.

Ergonomics can also have a direct bearing on product quality. Workers who are uncomfortable or in pain are more likely to make errors or be less precise in their work. Whether it's assembling integral parts or packaging products, discomfort hampers concentration and precision. It can slow down the pace of the tasks being performed and lead to repetitive motion injuries.

We also need to think about the indirect aspects of poor ergonomics, such as extended recovery times, more downtime and disruption of the workflow, especially when we are talking about an expert workforce performing tasks that are not easily cross-trainable. A well-designed ergonomic setup facilitates smoother movements, reducing the time taken to complete tasks and enhancing overall productivity.

Fowler: How can safety professionals and employers assess the current state of ergonomics at their work sites?

Patil: Safety professionals can observe workstations, gather feedback from employees, and employ tools like ergonomic assessments and risk matrices. When conducting your asessment, consider an ergonomic gap analysis to determine the status of your program and where you can augment and dedicate resources. These insights will help identify areas that need improvement and offer guidance on targeted interventions.

In the past, safety professionals would have to spend a considerable amount of time performing risk assessments to determine accurate risk scores. With modern technology, we can process large amounts of data that help us make better-informed decisions about ergonomic risk management.

Fowler: What actionable steps can safety professionals take to address the issues they’ve identified?  

Patil: Safety professionals can look at traditional approaches such as ergonomics training, encouraging workstation customization, promoting frequent breaks and stretching, and collaborating with employees to implement their insights.

Safety professionals play a crucial role in fostering ergonomic excellence within workplaces, and the most powerful approach is through the concept of prevention through design. Safety professionals can work closely with design and engineering teams to ensure ergonomic considerations are integrated into the planning phase of a new project or workspace.

By factoring in ergonomic principles from the outset, potential issues can be identified and resolved before they arise, which has a big impact on cost. Trying to change a process after equipment has been installed or workflows have been implemented is not only time-consuming, it's also costly. Many times that becomes a barrier to instituting the change.

Ergonomics needs to evolve and safety professionals need to conduct regular evaluations of the measures already in place. Conducting ergonomic risk assessments helps identify potential ergonomic hazards and provides the foundation for designing work environments that prioritize safety and comfort.

You also want to educate employees on the importance of ergonomics and train them on proper techniques. You can organize workshops, seminars and training sessions that empower workers to identify ergonomic issues and take proactive measures to address them.

Fowler: What are some emerging trends and innovations in ergonomics?

Patil: We are witnessing the fusion of sensors and data analytics to create personalized ergonomic solutions, as well as motion capture software and wearable devices that track posture fatigue and heat stress and provide real time feedback. This is coupled with virtual reality simulations for workplace optimization. These innovations have the potential to redefine how we interact with the environment and enhance overall well-being and productivity. With this new technology, we can process large amounts of data and make more informed decisions.

Fowler: How can collaboration between ergonomic experts, designers, engineers and other stakeholders help create more holistic solutions?

Patil: Cross-disciplinary workshops and brainstorming sessions are great ways to get people  to collaborate and exchange ideas to ensure everyone has contributed to the solution. These can help break down silos and allow experts from different fields to contribute their unique insights. This synergy results in solutions that are innovative, comprehensive and enhance the overall impact of ergonomic design.

It's important to have an open mind, take every solution that has been suggested and look at it objectively to see how it would work. If it wouldn't work, think about what needs to be changed to make that solution more appropriate for the situation.

Fowler: How can ergonomics contribute to the design of more inclusive and accessible spaces for people with disabilities?

Patil: Ergonomics contributes to inclusive design in several crucial ways. It focuses on optimizing the physical layout and arrangement of objects within a space. For individuals with mobility disabilities, this might mean wider pathways, lower countertops and strategically placed handrails. These adaptations ensure that everyone can navigate the environment comfortably and safely.

This extends to the design of furniture and equipment, such as workstations that are adjustable in height, which benefits people with many different needs. Ergonomically designed furniture promotes comfort and prevents strain, which benefits everyone, including people with disabilities.

People who have visual or auditory sensitivities may request specific lighting conditions or reduced noise levels. Ergonomics can help address these factors, creating a more pleasant environment for everyone. Technology is also a crucial aspect of inclusive design. Things like screen readers, voice commands and tactile interfaces can empower individuals with disabilities to interact seamlessly with technology.

We have to remember that incorporating ergonomics into design not only benefits people with disabilities, but also promotes more holistic well-being for everyone. When we prioritize comfort and functionality, we foster a sense of belonging and inclusivity, which positively impacts mental and emotional well-being.

Fowler: How can organizations foster a culture that is more proactive about ergonomics?

Patil: It all starts with leadership commitment. When management prioritizes employee well-being, it sets the tone for a proactive approach. Ergonomic assessments, open communication and employee empowerment all contribute to a culture where ergonomics isn't just an afterthought, but a fundamental value.

As a safety professional, it falls under your purview to make sure that these initiatives are presented to your leadership. Show them what you’re doing and the improvements you have in place in order to get that commitment. This approach prevents issues before they escalate, leading to a healthier, more engaged workforce.

Fowler: Anything else you’d like to add?

Patil: Conduct ergonomic risk assessments and use your workforce and stakeholders to solve problems. When you're looking at implementing solutions, you want everyone who is affected by those ergonomic issues involved in solution development and implementation. You’re going to get better buy-in and have continuous improvement.

Understanding Risk Management and Assessment

Get the resources and expert guidance you need to improve how you assess risks to prevent hazards, protect workers and safeguard equipment.

Learn more


Are You Passionate About Safety?

Volunteer with ASSP today.

Get involved


Jumpstart Your Learning

Access our latest free webinars, articles and more.

Advance Your Career

Earning an ASSP certificate can enhance your career.

Get Insight & Analysis

Learn about the latest trends in safety management, government affairs and more.

Connect With ASSP