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Sustainable Ergonomics: A New Path to Environmental and Human Well-Being 

Written by Madeline Shoot

Ergonomics and sustainability may seem like two distinct concepts at first glance. Nonetheless, as the world shifts its focus towards environmental consciousness and sustainable practices, the bond between these two fields becomes increasingly evident. Let’s explore the pivotal role of ergonomics in championing sustainable practices. 

A Journey Through Time: Understanding Sustainability 

The concept of sustainability has evolved over the years. Originally synonymous with reducing consumption, the term has broadened its meaning to encompass environmental concerns, among others. According to Roger Haslam & Patrick Waterson (2013), sustainability today is deeply tied to wide-ranging international actions aiming to: 

  • Reduce consumption and production 
  • Improve built environments and resource utilization 
  • Advocate sustainable land use and agriculture 
  • Enhance transportation, energy generation, and supply systems 
  • Promote waste management and recycling 

This evolution isn’t isolated from human behavior. In fact, there’s a tangible synergy between ergonomics and these sustainability goals. Such an alliance ensures not just environmental sustainability, but also the sustainability of products, human resources, and business ethics. Successful businesses of today have realized that adopting sustainable practices isn’t just ethically right but also economically beneficial in the long run. 

Designing for Tomorrow: The Daciano Perspective 

Moreira Da Silva’s study in 2015 introduced us to Daciano, a celebrated Portuguese designer who firmly believed in shared responsibility toward achieving sustainable products. His designs were a testament to: 

  • A balance between social, environmental, and economic facets 
  • Emphasis on durable materials and local technologies 
  • Harmonizing the designer’s vision with the needs of the producer, workers, and local resources 

Daciano’s office furniture system exemplifies this approach (Moreira Da Silva., 2015). By incorporating long-lasting materials and reusing industrial production techniques, he paved the way for more sustainable designs that resonate with both cultural and economic contexts. 

Building a Sustainable Future: Ergonomics Throughout a Building’s Life Cycle 

A building, whether commercial or residential, has a significant environmental footprint. However, integrating ergonomics can redefine this impact as highlighted in “The Importance of ergonomics to sustainability throughout a building’s life cycle” by Linda Miller, Julie Dorsey, and Karen Jacobs (2012). It ensures that the building not only meets the environmental, social, and economic demands of today but is also prepared for the needs of future generations. 

Sustainable design has gained traction due to its evident returns on investment, increased occupant satisfaction, and rising public interest in environmental protection (Miller, Dorsey, and Jacobs., 2012). By considering human factors throughout a building’s lifecycle, from design and construction to operation and decommissioning, ergonomics promotes both individual well-being and system-wide sustainability. Through integrating ergonomics in the design process, practitioners have a platform to advocate for workplace safety, proactively, thus integrating ergonomic principles into the design process. This saves the future worker from workplace hazards as they were designed out before the building was opened for use.  

For a holistic approach to sustainable design, Miller and colleagues (2012), noted that it’s paramount to factor in the human element throughout every phase, from design and construction to operation and eventual decommissioning of a building. Integrating ergonomic principles not only enhances human performance, productivity, and well-being but also catalyzes sustainability at both individual and systemic levels. 

Ergonomists have several roles in this setting: 

  1. Optimized Spaces for Health and Performance: Ergonomists can ensure that workspaces are tailored to foster health, wellness, and optimal performance. Such an approach minimizes resource wastage, aligning with sustainability principles. 
  1. Behavioral Change Advocacy: Ergonomists’ insights can drive designs that naturally encourage sustainable practices among occupants. 
  1. Leadership in Sustainable Certification: It’s essential for ergonomists to familiarize themselves with certifications like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. By understanding and advocating for such certifications, ergonomists can drive sustainable building practices. 

Promoting Sustainable Designs: The Ergonomist’s Role Today 

Sustainable design begins at the manufacturing of the product, as depicted in Daciano’s office furniture system (Moreira Da Silva., 2015), and extends into the creation of new structures (Miller, Dorsey, and Jacobs., 2012), but it does not stop there. As ergonomists, providing lasting products to end users contributes to the sustainability initiative. This entails doing our due diligence in recommending products that can withstand the application while providing lasting ergonomic benefits. Not only does this practice reduce consumption but entails a stronger return on investments as repurchasing is not an elevated concern. This is advantageous to ergonomists as lasting products will provide assurance that risk is averted for an extended period. Coupled with manufacturers’ commitment to making high-quality, durable, and lasting products, this will greatly benefit sustainability initiatives.  

Ergonomics as a Sustainable Champion

To truly harness the potential of ergonomics in sustainability, it’s crucial for ergonomists to comprehend certifications like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and incorporate them into their practices. By championing a proactive, sustainable approach, ergonomists can lead the way in reducing overconsumption and promoting waste reduction. 

In this journey towards a sustainable future, ergonomics and sustainability aren’t just allies; they are two sides of the same coin. Together, they hold the promise of a world where environmental well-being harmonizes with human prosperity. 

The Economics of Ergonomics: Unlocking the Hidden Benefits

You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel, But You Do Need the Right Caster for the Job!  

When it comes to ergonomics, we often only hear discussions about the value of injury avoidance and prevention. At Darcor, we talk extensively about the importance of ergonomics in the workplace, but we aren’t just talking about injury avoidance… we believe in taking a more proactive approach! 

In terms of transporting heavy loads with manual material handling carts, having the right cart design and caster selection for the specific application doesn’t just reduce the rate of injury. The right cart design can also create a ripple effect that offers benefits for the business in every aspect of operational efficiency and productivity. 

It’s Not Just About Injury Avoidance 

Overexertion injuries, such as those that involve pushing and pulling, are the costliest for employers. According to the 2023 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index (WSI), overexertion costs businesses $12.84 billion in direct costs! That does not include indirect costs that can be anywhere from 4-10x more. We know that workplace injuries can be costly for any business, but a cart that prioritizes ergonomics and ease of use goes beyond injury avoidance. 

A well-designed cart with quality casters makes it easier for the worker to do their job. In fact, a 2019 study of ten workers conducted by Darcor found that doing a repeated task with a well-designed cart was so much easier and more efficient than without, that over time it was like adding an 11th person to the production line. 

A well-designed cart doesn’t just save you the unpredictable and costly consequences of a workplace injury, it can also increase efficiency and productivity, improving the bottom line for your business. 

The Caster’s Hidden Value 

While it may be difficult for a company to justify spending more on their cart program, something as small and simple as casters can make a big difference in productivity. Just like the tires on your car, casters are the only point of contact with the surface you’re on. They impact the ease of movement the cart operator has, how quickly they can stop, and how easily they’re able to turn. Carts that are hard to maneuver can slow down productivity and increase the risk of injury to the worker.  

Type of floor and cart load weight are just two of the key factors that affect caster selection. Simply choosing the right casters can increase operational efficiency by improving operator mobility and decrease production downtime due to less mechanical breakdown resulting from low quality cart components. 

Avoid Breakdowns by Finding the Right Caster

There are several ways that casters can break down, such as exceeding load capacity; environmental conditions, like high workplace temperature or presence of floor debris; and impact loading, which occurs when a caster hits an obstacle. But the most common cause of caster malfunction is that the wrong caster was used in the first place. The reason for caster misuse, most often comes down to price.  

One Darcor client that relies exclusively on cart usage was able to justify purchasing high-quality casters for their carts by looking at the avoided maintenance costs and the resulting operational slowdowns for replacement and fixes. Even one broken cart can have a profound impact on the business by slowing down delivery and putting customer service at risk to the point of losing customers to a competitor. 

Making the Investment 

Choosing the most inexpensive caster may seem like a good way to reduce costs, but it can end up affecting the company’s bottom line when equipment goes down and productivity comes to a halt. Cheap casters can negatively impact your business and competitiveness. It is much more cost-effective to take the long-term view and make a better investment up front. You don’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” but you do need the right caster for the job. 

If you would like to learn more about how cart design can improve the bottom line in your organization or how to tackle the top for your organization, download our Guide to Designing Manual Materials Carts. 

ErgoExpo 2016 – What is the Darcor Team Looking Forward to?

workplace ergonomicsThe 2016 National Ergonomics Conference & ErgoExpo is right around the corner. The ErgoExpo is being held at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. As much as the Darcor team is looking forward to the bright lights and excitement of Vegas, we are even more excited about the speakers and sessions scheduled at the ErgoExpo this year.

Since 1994, The National Ergonomics Conference & ErgoExpo is one of the leading conferences which focuses on best practices to build an ergonomics program or improve an existing program – all of this with productivity and cost-effectiveness in mind.

workplace ergonomics guide darcorAs those in the industry know, the awareness of ergonomics benefits for organizations continues to grow. There have been many studies and medical papers written that support the need to focus on ergonomics as a strategy towards workplace injury prevention and reducing workplace related fatigue. Darcor has contributed to these papers by developing The Guide to Workplace Ergonomics which covers a variety of areas to ensure employee health and safety, with specific focus on overexertion injuries that occur in the workplace.

So, what looks new and exciting at the 2016 ErgoExpo? Here are a few things the Darcor team has identified as “don’t miss” this year:

Industrial Ergonomics 101: Find It, Fix It, Check for Success (WS4) Jeff Sandford, Director of Consulting, Humantech. This is an annual favorite and is a great session to attend to kick start your industrial ergonomics program.

The Darcor team has a particular interest in improving ergonomics in industrial environments. Check out our recent blogs:

Reducing Materials Handling Injuries: A Prerequisite for World-Class Safety (WS5)Tim McGlothlin, MS, CPE, Executive Director and Heather White, MIE, CPE, Senior Ergonomist, The Ergonomics Center, North Carolina State University. This workshop addresses injuries related to materials handling (lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, etc.). Participants will leave the workshop with instructional manuals and basic software.

At Darcor, we focus on ergonomic industry trends and have written a few blogs about what is going on in the material handling industry:

Advanced Data Collection and Wearable Technology (WS3) Rachel Michael, CPE, CHSP, Ergonomic Thought Leadership, Aon Risk Solutions. Technology is changing the landscape of the world and we cannot forget that workplace ergonomics can also take advantage of technology. Michael will discuss how data can be collected through wearable technology and used to make future design decisions.

Maximizing Your Ergonomics and Safety Program with Lean Concepts (IA6)Jerome J. Congleton, PhD, PE, CPE, Emeritus Professor of Ergonomics and Safety Engineering, Texas A&M University Health Science Center School of Public Health. Dr. Congleton will cover the hands-on application of lean techniques and ergonomic tools to enhance ergonomic programs.

Darcor recently examined lean concepts in our recent blog: Continuous Improvement vs. Lean Manufacturing.

Prevention Through Design: An Ergonomic Business Case (IA7) Georgi Popov, PhD, QEP, CMC, Associate Professor, University of Central Missouri. This workshop highlights how to develop a business case for ergonomic change with a particular focus on design improvements.

This is another area that the Darcor team feels strongly about – proactive design to prevent workplace injury. We recently wrote two blog posts on different perspectives on this topic:

Get Ready for ErgoExpo and Visit the Darcor Team to Learn about Casters’ Impact on Ergonomics

The ErgoExpo provides a great opportunity to meet ergonomics thought leaders and gain their insights into ergonomic best practices and the latest trends.

While you are in Las Vegas, stop by to visit the Darcor team at booth #545. We would be happy to share how casters can significantly impact ergonomic health in your organization. More and more companies are seeing the long-term benefits of implementing “wheel technology that exceeds ergonomic standards” when constructing their carts and material handling equipment.

We look forward to seeing you at ErgoExpo 2016!

Don’t Wait for a Workplace Injury – Implement Proactive Ergonomics

proactive ergonomics vs reactive ergonomicsEmployers worldwide are concerned for the safety and well-being of their employees. Unfortunately, most workplace ergonomics solutions are put into place too late – after employees have sustained workplace injuries. Organizations should be focusing on a proactive approach to combating workplace injuries vs. the reactive approach of trying to solve the problem after the fact.

A recent study, The Proactive Approach—Is It Worthwhile? A Prospective Controlled Ergonomic Intervention Study in Office Workers, led by Jasminka Goldoni Laestadius, M.D., Ph.D., of The World Bank’s Joint Bank/Fund Health Services Department reports findings that clearly demonstrate that proactive, customized ergonomic assessment and intervention make a significant difference in reducing employees’ musculoskeletal pain:

The major finding of this study is that, compared with the control group, significant decrease in the frequency of musculoskeletal pain and eye symptoms was confirmed for the two intervention groups. However, after adjustment for confounders, only Intervention group 1 (having new furniture, educational material, and an individual workstation set up by an ergonomist) reported significant improvement from most musculoskeletal pain symptoms, whereas Intervention group 2 (having new furniture, educational material, but no individual workstation set-up) did not retain significance.

In addition to protecting workers from injury, the benefits of implementing an ergonomics program can be fiscally significant for the organization. As reported by Ergonomics Plus, a recent ergonomics case study featured a facility which experienced dramatic results:

  • A 78% reduction in worker’s compensation costs
  • A 15% increase in productivity
  • Improved safety culture and employee morale

So, what does it take to implement proactive ergonomics and experience the benefits?

What is the Difference? Proactive vs. Reactive Ergonomics

Reactive ergonomics is an important part of implementing ergonomic change in response to an injury. However, there are a few issues with relying solely on reactive ergonomics. As mentioned, it means waiting for an injury to occur, which is obviously not ideal. Generally, reactive ergonomics does not have the budget, timeline or leadership support to implement the best solution, which means that although the risk has been assessed and a solution has been implemented, the improvement is marginal.

Proactive ergonomics is researched and implemented before a specific injury occurs. It is part of a continuous improvement process that is spearheaded by the leadership of the organization. This means that it is driven by strategic initiatives and organizational goals and has the funding to properly support the best possible ergonomic solutions for the betterment of the employees and the organization as a whole. In turn, the results are substantial to the organization in both reduction in workplace injuries and related costs to the company.

How to Implement a Proactive Ergonomics Process

Ergonomics Plus has documented an excellent ergonomics process for organizations wishing to take the first step towards proactive ergonomics:

  • Step 1: Prioritize Jobs for Ergonomic Analysis
  • Step 2: Conduct Ergonomic Analysis
  • Step 3: Develop an Ergonomic Opportunity List
  • Step 4: Determine Best Solution with Team Approach
  • Step 5: Obtain Final Approval and Implement Solution
  • Step 6: Evaluate the Ergonomic Improvement for Effectiveness

In stepping through this process, it is important to consider all areas of the business – from office workers to field technicians to workers on the shop floor. It is also imperative to consider and analyze all aspects of jobs and tasks to determine where changes are most crucial and impactful. Some areas of concern are pushing/pulling loads (can be assessed using Liberty Mutual Research) and noise pollution on manufacturing plant floors (can be assessed using CCOHS regulations).

Another important thing to consider is the design of processes, products and tools employees use in their day-to-day tasks. Poor design is a major contributing factor to risk of workplace injury.

Often overlooked is the design of carts that employees push and pull to transport heavy loads. Our material handling tips blog talks about what areas of push/pull task assessment should be considered for ergonomic improvements. For example, choices of caster wheel material and diameter are critical to ensure push/pull forces are reduced to support the reduction of risk of workplace injuries.

Proactive Ergonomics to Support Continuous Improvement and Employee Safety

workplace ergonomics guide darcorWorkplace ergonomics needs to be a priority for organizations long before an injury takes place. It is the support and implementation of proactive ergonomics that will provide the largest positive impact which will demonstrate the organization’s dedication to its employees and continuous improvement.

For a thorough overview of workplace ergonomics and push/pull tasks, download the Guide to Workplace Ergonomics.

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This booklet provides a more expanded, illustrated view of Darcor’s world-leading automotive casters. Provides evidence of how superior design and manufacturing helps leading auto companies cut worker injuries and keep production lines running. Download Now

This folder profiles the KP Series, the extra-rugged new Darcor ‘kingpinless’ swivel caster with an engineered offset for easier swiveling and to prevent chatter at high speeds. The Darcor KP Series takes the heaviest loads in automotive and other industrial applications. Download Now

This folder offers both an overview and specifications of Darcor’s leading edge medical casters which deliver the ultimate in safety, dependability, ease of motion, shock dampening, and maneuverability for a wide range of specialized applications. Download Now