Multidisciplinary approaches in ergonomics
Multidisciplinary approaches in Ergonomics
In the redesign of an assembly or packing line a multidisciplinary team of medical and technical representatives work collectively to identify, evaluate, and control risks to employees whilst maintaining productivity for the company concerned. Those who contribute to the redesigning of industrial equipment, such as assembly or packing lines, include professionals with a variety of expertise, including the occupational health nurse, occupational therapist, occupational hygienist, physiotherapist, ergonomist, human resource staff, and the design engineers. The role of each representative from the seven groups will often overlap, the objective for all however is to identify health hazards in the workplace and eliminate them, protecting workers from the primary sources of health risks whilst designing proficient equipment that makes the best of the workers potential without exceeding their physical and psychological capacity.
The role of the occupational health nurse is to provide nursing care in the work environment to employees and others with injury and illness. The nurse gives emergency care, prepares accident reports, and arranges further treatment or care if required. They also assess work environments for potential or actual health problems. Their contribution to redesigning an assembly or packing line would be in the form of supplying valuable data from incident and accident reports that identifies hazards relating to the existing equipment (Lloyd, 2002; Quinlan & Bohle, 1991; Sanders & McCormick, 1993).
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Responsible for preventative modification of the working environment has generally been assigned to occupational hygienists, engineers, and ergonomists. Occupational hygiene is an environmental science concerned with physical, chemical, and biologic hazards to the worker. The occupational hygienists recognize that safe and healthy working conditions enhance the quality of life for the people involved and contribute to productivity. Broken into three phases, identification, evaluation, and control, the occupational hygienist collects information from a variety of sources by breaking the overall work area into component processes, identifying hazards associated with each process. They will then evaluate each identified hazard by assessing the level of risk involved. With hazards identified and the risks evaluated a control strategy is designed to minimise exposure to acceptable levels. Engineering control strategies aim to prevent illness and disease by the modification of tools, equipment and processes (Lloyd, 2002; Sanders & McCormick, 1993; Quinlan & Bohle, 1991).
Similarly, ergonomics is an expert technical approach. The scientific study of the physical relationship between people, the equipment they use and the environment they work in. Their role is to optimise the relationship between worker and equipment by modifying the working environment (Quinlan & Bohle, 1991). Combining the information sourced from occupational health professionals, the ergonomist works closely with the design engineer in an attempt to design an assembly or packing line to match the size and capabilities of the worker and ensure tools and machinery can be controlled with minimal risk of injury or health problems (Sanders & McCormick, 1993). Final design will take into account the positioning of controls with provision for sufficient space for the physical movements required of the operator, the design of controls to require forces that are within the capabilities of the worker. By fitting the design of equipment and work methods to the physical and cognitive capabilities of workers, ergonomists act directly upon some important primary causes of occupational ill-health and injury (Corlett & Clark, 1995; Quinlan & Bohle, 1991; Wilson & Corlett, 1995).
The redesign may also require investigation into the body forces required for movements such as shifting levers, or lifting weights, the forces impinging on muscles, joints, and other parts of the body in various postures. The role of the physiotherapist is to utilize ergonomics in order to remove causative factors from the working environment and to prevent musculoskeletal injury (Grandjean, 1980; Wilson, 2002). The physiotherapists' specialized knowledge of body motion and skills in movement analysis make a valuable contribution to the physical aspects of ergonomic design.
The role of the physiotherapist will often overlap with that of the occupational therapist who addresses areas such as fatigue management; upper body strength, movement, and coordination, helping people improve their ability to perform tasks in their working environments (Grandjean, 1980; Wilson, 2002). The occupational therapist may also contribute to the training of workers, providing information and education to ensure competency in the work environment and use of equipment. This part of the occupational therapist role overlaps with that of the human resources staff.
The human resources staff are knowledgeable about the design of work systems in which people succeed and contribute. Matching the right person to the right role within the work environment is essential for productivity. The human resources staff are also involved in the modification of job procedures and job rotation to ensure a health working environment. Their work overlaps with the ergonomist in that the ergonomist fits the design of equipment and work methods to the physical and cognitive capabilities of workers, the human resources staff fit the physical and cognitive capabilities of the worker to the design of the equipment, under the advice of the ergonomist (Quinlan & Bohle, 1991). Working closely with occupational health professions such as the nurse, hygienist, therapist, and physiotherapist, the human resources staff will ensure correct training, information, and education are available to the workers to provide a safe and healthy environment. One of the members of the human resources staff may be the occupational psychologists who are concerned with the performance of people at work and in training. Their aim is to increase effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction at work. Organizations are deeply concerned about the need to recruit, retain and realize the potential of their human resources on which success depends. Occupational psychologists are the best qualified group to advise on human resource strategies and solutions (Wilson, 2002; Quinlan & Bohle, 1991).
In conclusion, provision of a working environment that is safe and of minimal risk to health, whilst maintaining productivity and efficiency, is important to both an employer and their employees. To achieve this existing design of equipment may require upgrading and redesign. A holistic approach with a multidisciplinary team of experts is necessary to obtain an optimal work environment. Those who contribute to the redesigning of industrial equipment, include the occupational health nurse, occupational therapist, occupational hygienist, physiotherapist, ergonomist, human resource staff, and the design engineers. The role of each representative from these groups will often overlap, the objective for all however is to identify health hazards in the workplace and eliminate them, protecting workers from the primary sources of health risks whilst designing proficient equipment that makes the best of the workers potential without exceeding their physical and psychological capacity.