Generally, in South Africa when people think ergonomics they think, my chair, my keyboard, and is my computer screen right. Simply put ergonomics is still in its infancy in South Africa therefore, not many people are aware of where ergonomics fits in to their lives.
Practically speaking we all practices some level of ergonomics in our day to day living we just do not notice it or consider it as an ergonomic decision. By definition “Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance” according to the International Ergonomics Association (IEA).
A typical example where we all practice some level of ergonomic principles is when we are looking for new shoes, sports equipment, and house for example. In the case of purchasing a new pair of shoes, you take into consideration how often and how long you will be wearing the shoes. This can be linked to user discomfort threshold i.e. you want a shoes that will be both comfortable yet serve their purpose. In the case of sports equipment, we all want sport equipment that will improve our natural sporting skills; therefore, you will purchase left-handed golf clubs just because the salesman says that they are the best as this will be an obvious mismatch between the user and the tool (golf clubs) which will lead to drastically reduced performance. Lastly, with regards to find a house, you will make sure that you find a house that can house your children, you pets and you and your partner. Should your family be generally talk, of concern to you will be the height of the door frames and overhead solid structures. Again here we are practicing matching the system (house) to the user (you the individual) rather than making changes to the human to fit into the house. The latter is very important, more especially in South Africa where the unemployment rate is high. It is therefore preferred that any ergonomic solution developed be cognisant of this fact.
So as much as we may think ergonomics is a new concept to South Africa, we have been implementing some of the ergonomic principles for some time in our everyday activities.
The take home message is that ergonomics really seeks to ensure that the user and the system achieve maximum performance output without compromising any aspect of the system.
Therefore, whether you and your colleagues are in a glassy office in Sandton, find yourself in the farm fields of the Free State, or underground in mine. You need to be cognisant of the impact the tools you using have on you and are they actually helping your performance or hampering your performance and health.
In conclusion, many companies in SA do not have an ergonomic baseline and do not know where to start implementing ergonomics in their company. A simple risk assessment of company can shed some light on areas that need attention, as they may be high risk. Then once the high risk areas have been addressed, not only will the company know where it stands with its ergonomics but it can develop an action plan for ergonomic integration into the company safety, health, and environmental (SHE) policy.