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OSHA Ergonomics

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is a science concerned with the ‘fit’ between people and their work. It takes account of the worker's capabilities and limitations in seeking to ensure that tasks, equipment, information and the environment suit each worker.


To assess the fit between a person and their work, ergonomists consider:

1. The job being done and the demands on the worker;

2. The equipment used (its size, shape, and how appropriate it is for the task);

3. The information used (how it is presented, accessed, and changed).


Ergonomics draws on many disciplines in its study of humans and their environments, including anthropometry, biomechanics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, industrial design, kinesiology, physiology and psychology.


Typically, an ergonomist will have a BA or BS in Psychology, Industrial/Mechanical Engineering or Health Sciences, and usually an MA, MS or PhD in a related discipline. Many universities offer Master of Science degrees in Ergonomics, while some offer Master of Ergonomics or Master of Human Factors degrees.


More recently, occupational therapists have been moving into the field of ergonomics and the field has been heralded as one of the top ten emerging practice areas to watch for in the new millennium.


Five aspects of ergonomics

There are five aspects of ergonomics, safety, comfort, ease of use, productivity/performance, and aesthetics. Based on these aspects of ergonomics, examples are given of how products or systems could benefit from redesign based on ergonomic principles.


1. Safety - Medicine bottles: The print on them could be larger so that a sick person who may have impaired vision (due to sinuses, etc.) can more easily see the dosages and label. Ergonomics could design the print style, color and size for optimal viewing.


2. Comfort - Alarm clock display: Some displays are harshly bright, drawing one’s eye to the light when surroundings are dark. Ergonomic principles could redesign this based on contrast principles.


3. Ease of use - Street Signs: In a strange area, many times it is difficult to spot street signs. This could be addressed with the principles of visual detection in ergonomics.


4. Productivity/performance - HD TV: The sound on HD TV is much lower than regular TV. So when you switch from HD to regular, the volume increases dramatically. Ergonomics recognizes that this difference in decibel level creates a difference in loudness and hurts human ears and this could be solved by evening out the decibel levels. Voicemail instructions: It takes too long to have to listen to all of the obvious instructions. Ergonomics could address this by providing more options to the user, enabling them to easily and quickly skip the instructions.

 5. Aesthetics - Signs in the workplace: Signage should be made consistent throughout the workplace to not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also so that information is easily accessible for all signs

Ergonomics and the OSHA 

In April 2002, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao unveiled a comprehensive approach to ergonomics designed to quickly and effectively address musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace. OSHA developed a four-pronged ergonomics strategy to meet this goal through a combination of industry-specific and task-specific guidelines, outreach, enforcement, and research.

Since the ergonomics strategy was announced, OSHA has made significant progress in each of the four areas of emphasis to reduce ergonomic injuries. Some highlights of OSHA’s accomplishments are summarized below.

OSHA Ergonomics Guidelines

§  OSHA’s first ergonomic guidelines were released on March 13, 2003, and covered the nursing home industry; the guidelines followed public comment and a stakeholder meeting.

§  OSHA published final Ergonomic Guidelines for Retail Grocery Stores on May 28, 2004 following public comment and a stakeholder meeting.

§  OSHA published final Ergonomic Guidelines for the Poultry Processing Industry on September 2, 2004 following public comment. No Stakeholder meeting was held for this guideline because stakeholders felt that their written comments were sufficient to communicate their concerns.

§  OSHA announced in the spring of 2003 that it would develop ergonomic guidelines for shipyards. The Draft Guidelines for Shipyards should be published soon.

§  OSHA is encouraging other industries to develop ergonomic guidance to meet their specific needs. For example, through their alliance, OSHA and the American Apparel and Footwear Association developed voluntary ergonomics guidelines for the apparel and footwear industry.

§  As part of their alliances with OSHA, several printing industry associations and the Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc., are developing ergonomic guidance for their respective industries.



§  OSHA has issued 19 General Duty Clause violations for ergonomic hazards, 18 of which have been settled and one remains open. OSHA continues to evaluate workplace ergonomics.

§  From January 1, 2002 through December 31, 2007 OSHA conducted 4,138 ergonomics inspections encompassing a variety of industries. Of these, 1,225 inspections were conducted in nursing and personal care facilities under a National Emphasis Program from July 2002 through the end of September 2003.

§  A cross-cutting OSHA ergonomics response team evaluates and screens all inspection cases prior to issuing a citation.

§  OSHA sent 593 hazard alert letters to notify employers of ergonomic problems in their facilities. Follow-up inspections at a sample of these facilities are being conducted to evaluate the progress of response to the hazard alert letters.

§  Four Regional Emphasis Programs and four Local Emphasis Programs are underway across the country, focusing on ergonomic hazards in meat processing, health care, garment factories, and warehousing industries.

§  OSHA named ergonomic coordinators for each of its 10 regional offices to assist staff, employers, employees, and other stakeholders with ergonomic issues.

§  OSHA currently has five ergonomists throughout the country—in regional offices, the national office, the OSHA Training Institute and the Salt Lake Technical Center.

§  The OSHA Training Institute has added a class to teach field personnel policies and procedures for ergonomics enforcement under the OSHA’s four-pronged approach.

Outreach and Assistance

§  OSHA currently has 38 active Strategic Partnerships with an emphasis on ergonomics.

§  OSHA has signed 32 national ergonomic Alliances and 29 regional ergonomic Alliances which are working with OSHA on a number of projects. Several Alliance Program participants, including the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the Airline Industry Alliance and the National Telecommunications Safety Panel have developed industry-specific ergonomics manuals. Abbott and The Dow Chemical Company helped develop several ergonomic case studies.

§  OSHA’s Web site features eight eTools that address ergonomics for a number of industries and occupations, including baggage handling, beverage delivery, computer workstations, electrical contractors, grocery warehousing, health care, poultry processing and sewing. Through the Alliance Program, the Graphic Arts Coalition, which includes representatives from several printing industry trade associations, is working with OSHA to develop an ergonomic eTool for the printing industry.

§  OSHA staff serves as adjunct members on the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Ergonomics Committee.

§  Voluntary Protection Program sites are required to identify and control hazards, including ergonomic hazards, as part of their overall safety and health management system.

§  The OSHA Training Institute Education Centers conducted 38 ergonomic classes and seminars for 711 students in FY2007 and have scheduled several ergonomics classes in FY2008.

§  OSHA provided ergonomic workstation training and evaluation assistance to several government agencies, including the IRS and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

§  OSHA’s Ergonomics Safety and Health Topics web page reflects OSHA’s four-pronged strategy to reduce ergonomic injuries. The web page provides information on ergonomics guidelines, enforcement actions, the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics, eTools, cooperative programs, a library of more than 40 success stories from a variety of industries, and case studies.

§  OSHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of the Small Business and Agriculture Regulatory Enforcement Ombudsman, to distribute ergonomics information to small businesses.

§  OSHA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce jointly developed a web cast on the willingness and ability of businesses to adopt and implement ergonomics policies.

§  In FY 2004, OSHA last awarded training grants in FY 2004 to three organizations to develop and conduct training on ergonomics in the retail grocery, nursing home, and auto supply manufacturing industries. OSHA has included Ergonomics in Foundries as a topic in the 2008 solicitation for grants.


National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics

§  OSHA established a 15-member National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE), with representatives from industry, academia, labor, and the legal and medical professions. More than 250 people were nominated in response to a Federal Register announcement seeking nominations to NACE.

§  The first NACE meeting took place in January 2003. Subsequent meetings were held in May 2003, September 2003, January 2004 and May 2004, and November 2004.

§  Discussion at the meetings has centered on task-specific guidelines, research needs and efforts, and outreach and assistance methods to communicate the value of ergonomics.

§  Based upon a recommendation of the NACE research discussion group, OSHA sponsored a symposium entitled Musculoskeletal and Neurovascular Disorders - The State of Research Regarding Workplace Etiology and Prevention for published researchers on work-related musculoskeletal disorders to examine their studies and the methodologies used. This symposium was held in conjunction with the January 2004 NACE meeting.

§  The NACE Charter ended in November 2004.

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