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What is ergonomics?

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You have probably heard the term ergonomics, but what exactly does it mean? Ergonomics is the study of people and work. Ergonomics looks at how a specific task, job or equipment fits the person doing the task or using the equipment, with the goal of increasing efficiency and decreasing physical stress. The study of how the body adapts to work has been around since 1713, when Bernardino Ramazinni wrote about work-related complaints in his book, De Morbis Artificum. The word ergonomics was first used by Wojciech Jastrzebowski in 1857 in his philosophical narrative, "based upon the truths drawn from Science of Nature." During the Industrial Revolution, when manufacturing was still dependent on human power/work to perform tasks, human efficiency was studied with an eye toward improving productivity. It wasn't until after WWII that the safety of the worker became as important as improving efficiency.

Today, the word "ergonomic" is applied to many products, but there are no regulations defining the term. Further what works for one person may not work for someone else. Therefore, simply buying a product that is labeled "ergonomic" will not guarantee that it will either increase your efficiency or reduce or prevent physical stress. The important thing to remember in purchasing work tools is to fit the tool to your body and to the task you must perform.

One of the important elements in ergonomics is keeping your body in a neutral position. Neutral means that there is no flexion or extension of joints and your muscles are not engaged. There is less stress and strain on your body when it is in a neutral position. For example, a wrist guard may be helpful in performing keyboard tasks, but only if it places your wrist and forearm in a neutral position. Therefore, when purchasing a product, analyze the task you are performing and decide what will aid you in achieving a neutral position.