The Early Days of Ergonomics

October 1, 2001
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Repetitive motion injuries have been plaguing assemblers for many years. In September 1970 (three months before OSHA was established!), ASSEMBLY Magazine first reported on a new term called "ergonomics."

Repetitive motion injuries have been plaguing assemblers for many years. In September 1970 (three months before OSHA was established!), ASSEMBLY Magazine first reported on a new term called "ergonomics." A short article explained how Magnus Organ Corp. (Linden, NJ), a leading manufacturer of organs, "recently introduced the use of ergonomic-designed hand tools."

For many years, the company had been using "air tools that would not hold their torque settings, particularly in heavier ranges." In an attempt to solve this problem, Magnus experimented with heavy-duty air tools that would hold torque levels in heavier ranges.

However, their use created a new set of problems. "Female employees complained of aching wrists, arms, shoulders and necks. So, although the torque problem was licked, there was no gain in productivity because of the fatigue factor."

Ergonomic-designed air tools were introduced after several years of experimentation by production engineers and an anatomical professor from Sweden. The professor determined that the middle finger, which is strongest, should operate the trigger. The tool that ultimately evolved was much lighter than any comparable tool that had preceded it, incorporated a noise silencer, and was designed to hold in the heaviest torque ranges.

Some 500 workers, most of them women, "increased production significantly" after Magnus introduced ergonomic-designed compressed air tools into its assembly operations. The company claimed that "these tools help increase production in assembly operations and, oftentimes, do it with less energy output on the part of the employees."

At the time, ASSEMBLY pondered: "why don't typewriter manufacturers look into ergonomically designed typewriters that would make correcting errors easier on the operator? A person can go home at the end of a day's work with all kinds of wrist, arm, shoulder and neck pains just from using those erasers all day long!" The suffering would endure for another 15 years until the advent of word processors in the mid-1980s, which prompted renewed interest in ergonomic issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

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