Ergonomics In A Changing World
Picture source: www.gizmag.com
BY WINNIE IP
INDUSTRIAL ENGINEER – NOVEMBER 2012; VOLUME 44; NUMBER 11
Leveraging technology for the good, the bad and the ugly
Humans have been able to adapt to the changing world for centuries, also have been striving constantly to improve the quality of living and have looked for ways to make lives more efficient and productive. Along with the benefits of rapidly changing technology and advancing products, however, comes an increase in the exposure to various risks, including those related to safety, ergonomics and health.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of technology is the pace of change over the past couple of centuries. Change used to be measured in years or decades, but now it’s measured in days, weeks and months. In keeping up with technology, it is important not only to consider the equipment and products used but the environment in which operate. Ergonomics can affect technology in a positive way, but this influence is not limited to the design and use of new products and the slew of accessories that might have the word “ergonomics” on the packaging. Unfortunately, technology might not always be a good thing when it comes to ergonomics.
Humans are an adaptable lot, and we are well-equipped to acclimate to our surroundings. Similarly, human metabolism has evolved over thousands of years, enabling to better tolerate and digest certain foods.
With the proliferation of the internet and digital technologies, high-tech products have exploded in the market. Technologies advances in products have facilitated improvements in task efficiency, higher levels of quality and better consistency.
People increasingly use technology to create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles, while governments use technology to improve internal processes, service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms. Advancing technology has been proven to offer major opportunities in improving processes and advancing both human and economic impact.
As technology continues to evolve, it will be better integrated into the workplace and become increasingly commonplace. Being aware of the good, the bad and the ugly as they related to ergonomics and technology in figure 1 will ensure that we are set up for the success in the years and generations to come.
Figure 1. The good, the bad, and the ugly of ergonomics and technology.
|People||– Technology helps sustain or improve our quality of life (especially as we age).
– People are well-equipped to adapt to the physical and mental challenges we face with new technology.
|– Decision makers in companies may not understand the value of ergonomics in products they purchase or manufacturing processes they develop.- Management tends to be reactive in how it deals with ergonomics challenges.||– Ergonomics can be used as a political chip by both management and labor in either adopting or refusing to try new technology versus trying to establish common ground and value for both sides.|
|Product||– Technological advances in products often improve task performance, quality and consistency.- New technology trends have led to smaller and more mobile equipment.||– Relying on technologies means more time spent doing sedentary (indoor) work.
– Technological advances increase exposure to ergonomics risks (awkward postures, eyestrain, high-frequency/long duration work).- Product innovations have introduced potential safety and health risks.
|– Dependence on technology means little downtime from devices (mobile phones, GPS devices, laptops, etc).- Employees can exploit the use of technology and demand overtime pay for working outside of normal office hours.|
|Process||– The world of digital media and the internet have made it easier to access and use information.- Globally, people use technology on an increasing basis to streamline business processes, create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles.
– Governments use technology to improve service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms.
|– Increasing dependence on summarized”headline” information (tweets/texts) ultimately makes us less informed.||– Technology can be an easy scapegoat when things don’t go as planned.
– Constant bombardment and pace of changes makes it difficult to keep up. Updating obsolete technology can be costly.
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