Developments, Controversies, and Applications of Ergonomics

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Book Chapter

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OSHA, Ergonomics, RMI, Repitition

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A common misconception is that health concerns in the workplace are only relevant in manual-labor fields or work zones that deal with hazardous materials or tools. In modern society, however, nearly every workplace can benefit from studying and applying techniques and understanding that regard the human body and its proper alignment or use. While damage to a secretary’s wrists from day after day of typing on a carelessly-designed keyboard might be as dramatic or immediate as a laborer’s foot being crushed by a dropped concrete slab, such subtle injuries can be just as debilitating and dangerous over time. Ergonomics, as a field, addresses the appropriate alignment and use of the body in all sorts of activities. The current school of thinking focuses on proactive human action; however, the scant notice that ergonomics has gleaned has only been brought on because of the injuries incurred when the proactive approach has been ignored. So, ironically enough, the proactive-themed field has only gained any notice or recognition due to reactive action. Due to the efforts of the US Department of Labor (or, more specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Association [OSHA]), the field of ergonomics has received increased press and familiarity with the general public in recent years. However, this identity has still largely been focused on workplace safety in factories or manual labor, certainly not seemingly benign and harmless office environments. The general public is rarely made aware of the long-term effects of improper posture from using increasingly ubiquitous office/computer technologies because it is not associated with such heavy labor (Bright, 2006). Nagourney (2002) has done one of many studies which demonstrate that even simple corrections to posture and equipment positioning can result in improved physical health for computer users (Also see ECCE, 2006). Also of note is that numerous studies have documented that leaving small repetitive injuries uncorrected (e.g., injuries that result from improper posture while using computers and other office equipment) has been found to culminate in health problems over time (Ullrich & Ullrich Burke, 2006). Because of these findings and the direct benefits of changing position and movement, public, workplace, and formal education needs to be improved. Rather than isolated or temporary injuries, individuals in these conditions experience compounding effects of improper postures resulting in continuing, repetitive (oftentimes unnoticeable) injuries. Therefore OSHA and a broad base of professionals need to continue to educate the general public so that they understand that ergonomics is more than health and safety codes for manual labor or what may be generally perceived as physically harmful workplace situations. At the same time, both personal and public responsibility for health and safety needs to be exercised in communicating information and solutions, and then implementing them in daily practice.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Developments, Controversies, and Applications of Ergonomics, in T. Torres-Coronas & M. Arias-Oliva (Eds.), Encyclopedia of HRIS: Challenges of e-HRM, IGI Global, p. 236-241