Ergonomics and Labor Today

Richard W. Marklin Jr. lops branches, shovels clay, carves 30-pound cattle femurs, pulls 270-pound manhole covers and studies the workers who make their living performing these tasks. The 50-year-old professor in Marquette University’s mechanical engineering department examines the way we work and the toll that work takes on our joints, muscles and bones.

”As humans, we’re very creative,” he says. ”We were given this very powerful brain, and we can design new products all the time and new tasks. But when new technology is introduced, it also introduces new problems.”

While optical scanners greatly reduced checkout time at the grocery store, Marklin says, they required clerks to make the same wrist-lowering motion thousands of times a day at high speed, leading to a class of injuries known as cumulative trauma disorders. Wrist tendons grew sore and inflamed. They deteriorated.

Over the years, ergonomic research not only improved airplane controls, but led to better chairs, keyboards, computer screens, acoustics, lighting and air circulation. In auto factories, nut runners allowed workers to attach all the bolts on a car tire at once, while in the logging industry, new devices reduced chain saw vibrations that were damaging nerves and arteries.

”Much of engineering is done with inanimate objects,” Marklin says, ”and there’s nothing wrong with that – coffee cups, widgets.  The question is: How does it affect the human user?”  Ergonomics tries to answer this question and come up with solutions to better fit objects with people.

Full article: Ergonomist studies how labor tools affect humans

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