Designing for Ergonomics' Sake

An ergonomic design improves safety and reduces injuries on the plant floor

By W. M. Weiss, P.E.

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Bulletin boards, newsletters, video presentations and meetings are excellent way to disseminate information. Photos and simple-to-read graphics also are helpful. If the ergonomics graphics are similar to those already used in presentations about inventory, quality control and costs, employees will realize the program is a practical, worthwhile one and should be taken seriously.

Why should management promote ergonomics and insist on good design? Several reasons come to mind, including:

High Workers' Compensation, insurance, absenteeism and disability costs frequently are ergonomics related.

Production or quality problems often can be traced to fatigue caused by the lack of ergonomic aids.

Management values employee comfort, good health and satisfaction with work accomplishment.

Adoption of ergonomic principles positively affects recruitment and retention of employees. It also influences customer perceptions of the company.


With a 660-lb capacity, this 19-1/2-inch (in.) x 32-in. table can be finger-control-lifted from 10-1/4 in. lowered to 35 in. raised.

Personnel safety aids

Many ergonomically designed machines, equipment, tools and safety aids are used in chemical processing plants today. To protect workers from repetitive strain injuries, employers can provide hand trucks, workstations that can be raised or lowered easily, and pedal systems on various machines. A lightweight aluminum hand truck can ease the strain of lifting heavy objects. A mobile scissor lift table can combine the features of scissor tables and pallet jacks. An antivibration and anti-impact glove can provide protection when working with heavy machinery.


An ergonomic design most often does not make industrial tools safer, stronger and more precise. Instead, the design benefits the engineering and maintenance employee by reducing tool-related injuries.

Hammers, in particular, are good examples. You can now use one with a 19-degree handle to decrease carpal tunnel syndrome; a titanium one that drives nails like a heavy steel hammer, but at half the weight; or an antivibration one that reduces pain and injury occurrences eight times over those associated with an ordinary steel hammer.

Other tools are equipped with ergonomic handles. Pliers can be spring-loaded to reduce fatigue. They also can be contoured to the curvature of the hand to provide maximum comfort and prevent wrist strain.

Screwdrivers can be designed with the ideal handle profile and surface texture for maximum power and comfort. A contoured handle with smooth upper section will not "heat" the palm when pressure is applied.

Protective clothing

More chemical processing plants are providing protective clothing to their employees. Depending on the process and the hazards involved, the clothing can be either disposable or reusable. Examples include aprons and sleeves, lab coats and material handling gloves. Other items that ensure greater safety and comfort to employees on the job include back belts and supports of various designs and purposes, as well as wrist and elbow supports. CP

Weiss is a Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio-based consultant. Contact him at

Photos courtesy of AliMed, Dedham, Mass.

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