Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fit the workspace to the worker, not the worker to the workspace

Fitting an ergonomic workplace ...

"Part of what I do in my job is space planning for businesses. Employers are increasingly aware that addressing ergonomics in the workplace improves worker efficiency and staff morale, as well as decreasing absenteeism and reducing the risk of workplace injury.

This prompts the question: what is ergonomics?

Ergonomics in business can best be explained as the science of fitting the work or workspace to the worker, rather than forcing the worker to fit the space.

Demands on workers have changed. Where once staff members manually performed tasks, the use of computers, along with task-specific software, has increased efficiency, which, in turn, has increased the volume of work an employee can accomplish. With these advances in technology, workers are now expected to perform a larger variety of tasks, which increases the necessity for a well-organized workspace.

In addition to increasing efficiencies, often the Internet and electronic datamanagement systems have allowed electronic documents to replace paper reference materials. If those paper reference materials still need to exist, they usually can exist in storage or outside the primary work area.

During the process of organizing space, and while venturing through different businesses, I get to look into other people's work habits. I am no longer surprised by the number of times file cabinets, desk drawers and boxes found in the workspace are full of the odds and ends of previous inhabitants. The current inhabitant is forced to work around the debris.

When asked, the individual currently occupying the workspace, sometimes for many years, often tells me that items and files that clutter his or her area were created by the previous person in the position and that he or she is not sure of their purpose. The impression is that the previous occupant kept the items because they were perceived to have value, so the person currently in the position has an aversion to disposing of them, even though they have no apparent use.

These frequent experiences are what cause me to go back to my own office and toss out anything that is not immediately relevant to my job. My motto: "If in doubt, throw it out." This practice makes for an efficient workspace, although on occasion it has its setbacks, such as disposing of the odd piece of pertinent material. Fortunately, thanks to the increased use of technology, and with enough scrambling, I am usually able to recover copies.

While having our own clutter around us gives us a sense of security, it stands to reason that having someone else's left-over clutter would play on our insecurities by never allowing us to take ownership of our job, and would contribute to a stressful situation. The result of stress is strain. It could be the psychological strain of an unsettled workplace, resulting in low morale and lowered productivity, or physical strain from improper reaching or lifting, which can result in lost work time. Physical strain can also reduce the body's resistance to illness, or affect the immune system, which increases employee absenteeism.

While increased productivity is the incentive for employers to encourage safe work practices, it is the individual worker's responsibility to arrange his or her work environment in a way that means less exposure to strain."    (Continued via The Whig Standard)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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