By the end of this Section you should:
  1. know the definition of ergonomics and work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD);
  2. be able to identify ergonomic risk factors in the workplace;
  3. know the contents of an ergonomics programme;
  4. be able to complete an ergonomic risk assessment including the performance of a job hazard analysis using the available tools;
  5. be able to establish work relatedness of a disorder;
  6. be able to identify ergonomic controls to eliminate or reduce ergonomic risk factors;
  7. know the responsibilities of a health care management programme;


Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population (interaction between the operator and the job demands).

Ergonomics provides the guiding principles and specifications according to which tools, machines, work procedures and workplaces are designed for safe use. The efficiency of a machine depends on the ability of the worker to control it effectively and accurately. The fact that workers are able to operate in poorly designed workplaces does not mean that this is the most efficient method of production; workers should be able to operate machines in the least stressful way.

Ergonomic deficiencies in the workplace may not result in immediate body pain but over time the body’s ability to adapt fails resulting in musculoskeletal disorders. Ergonomics should be seen not as finding problems but rather as giving solutions to the problems and can be applied to any industry.


Work-related musculoskeletal disorder, is a term used to denote those musculoskeletal disorders for which there is epidemiological evidence that workplace factors (for example, force, repetition, and vibration) increase the probability for the occurrence of the disorder.

The human body is continuously required to perform physical work. Physical stresses include moving of the body, moving objects and maintaining body posture. The response of the body to the physical stress is described as strain and is influenced by the capacity of the individual and by the demands placed on it.


The goal of ergonomics is to optimize the relationships between the worker, the task and the environment, in a cost effective manner, by modifying people’s work to be within their capabilities. This will result in a decreased risk of injury and illness, improved job performance and quality of work, in addition to improving the well-being of the organization due to decreased operating costs, stable workforce and improved morale.

A task is accomplished by the interaction of the employee and the machine in a particular workspace, which is contained in a particular environment. The workspace is described in terms of its size and the layout of the equipment/machinery. These two factors will have an effect on the posture of the worker and the reach distances, and with a resultant effect on comfort and efficiency. The environment is described in terms of its temperature, lighting, noise and vibration.

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General Introduction to Occupational Health: Occupational Hygiene, Epidemiology & Biostatistics by Prof Jonny Myers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 South Africa License