Frank Gilbreth: Pioneer of Occupational Ergonomics

Frank Gilbreth (1868-1924) was a pioneer of motion study and occupational ergonomics. He became interested in motion study during his first job as a brick layer, where he noticed that unnecessary motions were primarily responsible for making the job tiring and back breaking.

Gilbreth and his wife (Lillian Gilbreth) later went on to study the motions of all kinds of workers, attempting to make their jobs easier. Unlike Frederick Taylor, whose motion studies were focused on efficiency and increasing corporate profits, the Gilbreths believed that all aspects of the workplace should be constantly questioned and improved upon for the benefit of the worker. Their emphasis on the “one best way” paved the way for the understanding that repeated motions can lead to workers experiencing repetitive motion injuries.


Besides discovering the best way to lay bricks, Gilbreth devised work methods that help save lives. For example, he proposed that a surgical nurse hand surgical instruments to the surgeon as called for. Gilbreth also developed standard techniques used by armies around the world to teach recruits how to rapidly disassemble and reassemble their weapons even when blindfolded or in total darkness.

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