Survey Reveals Importance of Ergonomics to U.S. Workers

Oct. 4, 2006
A new survey from office furniture manufacturer Steelcase examines the understanding of U.S. workers of ergonomics, its importance in the workplace and how it affects a worker's productivity and physical well-being.

Through a survey of nearly 700 office workers in the United States, the study revealed that more than half (64 percent) of Americans believe they know the definition of the word ergonomics. However, only 20 percent actually do know the correct definition. Interestingly, only 36 percent of younger respondents (18-24) believe they know what the term means versus 74 percent of those between 45 and 54.

However, regardless of age and confidence in defining the term, the vast majority could not accurately define ergonomics. Nineteen percent of respondents believe the phrase "human engineering" is the most accurate definition, while 17 percent believe "health and safety" is the most precise. Additional choices included "maximized productivity" (11 percent), "best in comfort" (10 percent) and "reduced fatigue" (8 percent). Only 20 percent of respondents accurately identified that all of these aspects contribute to the definition of ergonomics.

While there is confusion among workers as to the exact meaning of ergonomics, it is clear that they are aware of its importance:

  • 77 percent of people think that ergonomics in the workplace is important;
  • 81 percent think that it has an affect on productivity while only 7 percent think ergonomics has no affect on productivity;
  • About half of all participants (51 percent) feel ergonomics affects productivity to a significant degree, while 29 percent think it affects productivity to a slight degree;
  • Age differences also impact how important ergonomics is viewed; those 35 to 44 years old are the most likely to think that incorporating ergonomics in the workplace is important (81 percent);
  • Younger respondents (18-24) are the most likely to think ergonomics has no affect on productivity (31 percent).

And while most workers seem to understand the need for ergonomics in the workplace, it is unclear if employers feel the same. Of workers participating in the study, over 40 percent feel that their office does not provide sufficient ergonomic options in the workplace.

"Years of research has shown us that providing ergonomically sound furniture is a fundamental first step in providing employees a better physical experience at work, which can subsequently benefit the company in terms of efficiency and productivity," said David Trippany, corporate ergonomist for Steelcase. "This survey reveals that there is discrepancy between the importance workers place on ergonomic solutions and their understanding of the topic. This indicates a clear opportunity for organization and worker education about ergonomics and how ergonomic solutions can benefit people at work and, in turn organizations, by reducing worker injuries and illnesses and potentially increasing individual efficiency levels."

Respondents identified that their computer or keyboard area and their desk chair are in need of the most ergonomic improvement (34 percent). Alternative areas that need improvement are general seating (24 percent), tables in secondary areas (20 percent) and cubicle design (16 percent).

This study is the third of a three-part Workplace Index Survey on the Nature of Work in 2006. Steelcase conducts Workplace Index Surveys to uncover pertinent issues in today's work environment.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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