When you hear about the "ergonomic" features of toothbrushes, spray bottles, pens and cars you start to wonder if this is just another marketing term for products. In some cases it may be. However, when it comes to workstation design it is crucial to have a good understanding of what makes something "ergonomic" and to learn how to apply this knowledge to the computerized office environment.
The fundamental goal of ergonomic design is to adapt the work process, tools or equipment and the working environment to fit the needs, size and capabilities of the worker to enable the worker to work comfortably, safely and ultimately increase productivity.
Let's face it, if you don't feel well, you don't work well and you are not performing at peak efficiency. So how do we achieve our goal in the design process of workstations? You must first put on a new pair of glasses and look at the design process from another angle. Look at the details first and design the workstation from the inside out.
There is an interrelation of multiple facets that revolve around and directly affect the worker. They not only include the workstation and the equipment, but also include the task, the environment and psychosocial factors. All of these items must be addressed to successfully design an ergonomic workstation.
Since the worker is in the center of this web, it is important to know whom you are designing the workstation for. Gather anthropometric data that deals with the size, weight, height and proportions of the body to help determine space and size requirements. Also, make yourself aware of other personnel matters, such as management styles, organizational habits of the workers, personal needs and perceived needs. An in-depth work flow analysis should be done to determine the tasks performed, the supplies and equipment used in these tasks and the order in which the tasks are performed. Look closely at the proximity of the equipment in relationship to the work being done. Frequently used supplies and equipment should be within easy reach of the workers. Often you will discover that a modification in the work flow process can eliminate excessive reaches ormovements and make the worker more comfortable and more productive. It is common for workers to adapt themselves to the given layout or process and never think to change it. These types of changes usually don't require new furniture and expense, but are very effective.
While analyzing the work flow process you will be able to determine if the workstation needs to support a single (repetitive) or a multiple task job. Typically multi-task jobs require much more space and attention to detail. Also, be aware if the workstation is for a single or multiple users. This will determine the amount of adjustability needed in the components. The type of job will also be an indication if a sit/stand adjustment capability would be appropriate. A common oversight in the design of workstation is the degree of interaction that takes place throughout a work day and the mount of time it takes to rearrange the working layout to accommodate it. Consider it before decisions are made on the flexibility of the components.
Technology is a driver in the heart of the work flow process and affects the workstation most critically, but how much do designers really assess in that arena? In the past we would design the workstation and after the installation was complete the equipment appeared in the stations. It is very important to know the ins and outs of all of the equipment in the workstation. Know the size, weight, cabling requirements and how the equipment is used. It's no longer safe to assume a terminal is a terminal or a keyboard is simply a keyboard. Terminals are getting larger and heavier and keyboards have an array of shapes and sizes. You must know specifically what is being used before specifying furniture to support it. Also, remember that the world has been invaded by mice and we can no longer over look it. Good body posture while working with a mouse is as important as working with a keyboard. To support a desired posture for computer use it is necessary to have an adjustable chair that allows the user to adapt it to his/her body, and adjustable work surfaces or supports that allow proper equipment placement. Generally a slightly downward position of the chin, an open torso to thigh angle greater than 90 degrees, upper arms down along side of body, forearms roughly parallel to the floor and non-bent wrists is a satisfactory posture for work at a computer terminal.
Last, but not least there is one of the most difficult factors to consider before completing the design of the workstation, the environment. Specifically lighting, acoustics and indoor air quality have considerable effect on the success or failure of an ergonomic workstation. The quality and quantity of the light, reflections, glare and contrast should be controlled for the comfort and productivity of workers. Maintaining lower light levels and supplementing with articulating task lights can solve a lot of visual problems as well as placement of fixtures and light sources in relation to the workstations. Controlling sound levels and maintaining good indoor air quality can have a direct effect on the comfort and performance of a worker and should be addressed.
By now your glasses could be fogged, but these are some of the things that need to be looked at to successfully design an ergonomic workstation. If all of these factors are addressed during the design process you can't help but design a workstation that will fit the worker.