This series of articles will review what ‘ergonomics’ (also know as ‘human factors’) is and how it applies to gardening. I became interested in ergonomics when a co-worker’s chronic arm, neck, and shoulder pain was relieved by having her desktop lower: it had been four inches too high. The proliferation of personal computers, tablets, and smartphones have put ergonomic concerns into the hands of the general public (pun intended). Repetitive Stress Injuries are no longer limited to assembly line works, cashiers, and musicians. Gardening is hard work; learning some of principles of worker safety could help save a gardener from pain and discomfort.
The Center for Disease Control National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines ergonomics as “the scientific study of people at work”. The CDC states that “the goal of ergonomics is to reduce stress and eliminate injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of muscles, bad posture, and repeated tasks. This is accomplished by designing tasks, work spaces, controls, displays, tools, lighting, and equipment to fit the employee´s physical capabilities and limitations.”
The term “ergonomics” was coined (in 1857) from two Greek words: ergon, meaning work, and nomoi, meaning natural laws. With the Industrial Revolution (1750-1914), machinery and factories were designed for speed and efficiency of production, with no consideration of worker safety. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries “Scientific Management” (Frederick Winslow Taylor) and “Time and Motion” studies (Frank and Lillian Gilbert) aimed to identify the most efficient, not always the safest, method for carrying out a given task.
However, during the Second World War, the human factor in man-machine interfaces became critical. Displays and controls in war machines needed to be clear and simple to use during the stress of battle. After World War II, the field of “Human Factors” research was formalized and research expanded to include issues of industrial worker safety as well as productivity.
Some key principles of ergonomics and body mechanics are:
- Maintaining a neutral posture: keeping proper body alignment while working
- Working in the “comfort zone” as close to the body as possible
- Managing risk to the musculoskeletal system of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints
- Reducing excessive force, motions, and contact stress
- Allowing for movement and stretching
- Avoiding repetitive motions
- Maintaining a comfortable work environment
Part 2, coming next week, will demonstrate the application of ergonomics to gardening.