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Understanding Ergonomics: A Guide for Safety Professionals






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OSHA defines ergonomics as “the science of designing the job to fit the worker, instead of forcing the worker to fit the job”. While that appears like a fairly simple statement, there is much more to the process of understanding ergonomics. The true understanding of ergonomics is changing how we think about how we move and interact in the performance of various work tasks.

Completing this course will help you:

  • Basic understanding of Ergonomics in the Workplace
  • The crucial role each body part
  • Effective implementation of an Ergonomics plan

Who is the course for?

Safety Professionals who are looking to learn and implement an ergonomically driven plan to counter lower productivity, higher healthcare cost and employee overall wellness.

Learning Path

Lesson 1 – five basic components of engaging the ergonomic process


In manufacturing, assembly work, and construction, from the worker’s perspective, the work should be organized using a simple three zone approach. Things that need to be interacted with frequently, such as tools, parts, assembly, etc. should be within the elbow to fingertips reach or the Primary Zone. Those tasks, parts, tools, etc. that are less frequently interacted with should be in reach from the shoulder to the fingertips or the Secondary Zone. Lastly, those items that are not often needed in the process of work tasks should be placed in an area where the worker must change their position to obtain, retrieve, or engage in the Tertiary Zone.

1 Min read to complete

Lesson 2 – Lower Extremity – Legs, Knees, Ankles and Feet

When someone is asked about the legs in the backdrop of ergonomics, there is typically a look of confusion or that “I never really thought about it before” response. On average, we assume our legs will just do want we want them to do. Consequently, most people do not really think about it much, but legs are really the foundation of how we engage work every day! From an ergonomic standpoint, our legs represent only about 25% of our total body weight but that means it holds up, controls, and supports the other 75% of the body (head – arms at 25% and trunk at 50% with a total of 75% for the head/ arms/trunk referred to at the HAT).

1 Min read to complete

Lesson 3 – Upper Extremity – Structure of Back and Trunk

The etymology of the word “Ergonomics” began in the 1950’s but it originates from the core part of the word “Ergon” or work. When we complete the word, ergonomics, we are really implying the “pattern or distribution of work”. Keeping that in mind, it is not only the pattern of work itself but also the pattern of how things work that interact with ergonomics. The back and trunk are not only fundamental to the discussion of ergonomics, but it is also fundamental as to how the human body

interacts with work.

2 Min read to complete

Lesson 4 – Upper Extremity – Arms and Shoulders

In order to truly understand the importance of ergonomics related to the upper extremities, it is vital to appreciate how it is uniquely formed and thus how it is used. The evolution of arms and shoulders is just one of the amazing reasons for humans’ rise to the top of the food chain. Anthropologist, Susan Larson, at Stony Brook University Center described the change in the shoulder’s position beginning some two million years ago as humans left the comfort of trees and began to stand upright. The shoulder’s collar bone (clavicle) and shoulder blade (scapula) transitioned from a more upward and frontal orientation to one that is more horizontal and out to the sides of our bodies.

2 Min read to complete

Lesson 5 – Mechanics of the Head and Neck

The role of the neck not only repositions the head to maximize our sense and interaction with work, but also will dictate what the back will do. You can confirm that by flexing your neck. As you maximize that flexion motion, you can feel your thorax and lumbar vertebrae all following the direction of the neck. From an ergonomic standpoint, if you wanted more extension of the lower back when lifting or material handling, it would be wise to extend the neck first. If you ever watch powerlifters, before they lift heavy weights, they will always maximally extend the neck.

2 Min read to complete

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February 19, 2021

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