Ergonomic Milestones

Occupational ergonomics is not a new field. In fact, people have been studying the topic for more than 100 years. This brief timeline tracks some significant milestones.

Industrial ergonomics is not a new subject. In fact, it has been studied for more than 100 years. Here’s a brief look at significant milestones:

Physician Bernardino Ramazinni, the “father of occupational ergonomics,” writes about work-related complaints that he observes among cobblers and tailors in Padua, Italy.

The term “ergonomics” is first used by Wojciech Jastrzebowski, a Polish scientist.

Frederick W. Taylor publishes Scientific Management. The book summarizes his research on time and motion studies in steel mills and other industrial settings.

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth publish Applied Motion Study. The book explains how hand and arm patterns can be studied to change work habits and eliminate useless steps.

George Elton Mayo begins studying the assembly of telephone relays at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works in Cicero, IL. The landmark human behavior research examines how fatigue, monotony and supervision affect productivity.

World War II prompts interest in human-machine interaction. Design concepts such as fitting the machine to the size of the operator and using logical control buttons evolve.

Hywel Murrell, a British scientist in charge of the Royal Navy’s motion study unit begins to popularize the term “ergonomics.”

The Ergonomics Research Society is founded in England.

Hywel Murrell creates the world’s first industrial ergonomics department at Tube Investment Ltd.

The German Society for Work Science is founded.

The first ergonomics film, “Fitting the Job to the Worker,” is produced by the British Productivity Council.

An international conference held in Zurich, Switzerland, focuses on the application of ergonomics in industry.

ASSEMBLY magazine first reports on ergonomics in a short article about the Magnus Organ Corp. (Linden, NJ). The company had recently begun using “ergonomic-designed hand tools” to assemble its products 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 article points out. “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.”

Congress passes the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes its headquarters in Washington, DC.

ASSEMBLY magazine begins publishing articles that address ergonomics, such as “Design the Assembly Workplace to Today’s Performance Potential.”

Volvo opens a new assembly plant in Kalmar, Sweden. The star-shaped building features an ergonomic production system. Operators ride down the assembly line on automated guided vehicles that can be tilted 90 degrees.

The first ergonomist joins OSHA.

OSHA begins discussing ergonomic issues with labor groups, trade associations and professional organizations.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publishes the Work Practices Guide for Manual Lifting.

Eastman Kodak Co. publishes Ergonomic Design for People at Work.

The OSHA Training Institute offers its first course on ergonomics.

The growing popularity of personal computers prompts widespread interest in ergonomic issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome and lumbar back support.

OSHA cites Chrysler Corp. assembly plants in Belvidere, IL; Newark, DE; St. Louis; and Toledo, OH, for ergonomic hazards.

After two years of negotiations with OSHA and the UAW, Chrysler begins to implement the first comprehensive ergonomics agreement in the U.S. auto industry. A pilot study begins at Chrysler’s Belvidere assembly plant to address cumulative trauma disorder hazards. It involves engineering controls to reduce or eliminate job-related stressors such as force, position, repetition and vibration.

Ford Motor Co., OSHA and the UAW sign an agreement that requires Ford to reduce ergonomic hazards in 96 percent of its plants through a model ergonomics program.

General Motors Corp. (GM), OSHA and the UAW sign an agreement that brings ergonomic programs to 138 GM plants and more than 300,000 employees.

GM opens a new assembly plant in Spring Hill, TN, that features skillet conveyors. They allow operators to raise or lower cars to the position that is most comfortable and convenient for them to work on. The plant also features electric power tools that minimize torque reaction on operators.

OSHA publishes Ergonomics: The Study of Work as part of a nationwide educational outreach program to raise awareness of cumulative trauma disorders.

OSHA begins working on a controversial ergonomics standard.

OSHA launches an ergonomics page on its Web site.

Manufacturers such as Boeing, Caterpillar, Ford, General Motors and John Deere begin using digital simulation tools to study how assemblers interact with various tools and parts. By using virtual people, stresses and strains can be calculated to determine the overall impact of assembly line design with respect to human factors.

OSHA issues an Ergonomics Program Standard.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries issues an ergonomics standard. It requires employers to evaluate jobs to identify potential ergonomic risks, such as awkward, heavy lifting and highly repetitive motion.

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S Senate repeal the ergonomics rule. President George W. Bush also repeals the ergonomics rule.

The National Safety Council begins to administer the Z365 ergonomics standard. It is intended as a guide for manufacturers to “voluntarily keep workers safe from work-related musculoskeletal disorders.”

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Toyota vs. Williams, is the first major ruling that involves carpal tunnel injuries. The court rules that a former assembly line worker with carpal tunnel syndrome is not entitled to special treatment on the job. Ella Williams had sued Toyota Motor Manufacturing North American Inc. under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. But, the justices ruled unanimously that Toyota’s Erlanger, KY, plant did not have to tailor a job to suit the worker’s wrist, arm and shoulder problems.

OSHA announces a Comprehensive Plan on Ergonomics.

Lean manufacturing initiatives begin to take effect in many companies. Ergonomics becomes less of a standalone discipline and more of a lean manufacturing initiative, because many ergonomic principles are consistent with the goals of lean manufacturing, such as waste reduction and simplified movement. Lean elements, such as cellular production, 5S and visual controls, all address ergonomic issues. Many manufacturers install flexible, modular conveyors and workstations that can be easily reconfigured.

Kenworth Truck Co.’s Renton, WA, facility receives the 1st annual Assembly Plant of the Year award from ASSEMBLY magazine. Among other factors, the plant is cited for taking a proactive approach to ergonomics. Assemblers use a wide variety of fixtures, tools and material-handling devices to eliminate fatigue and reduce the threat of injury.

ASSEMBLY magazine coins the term "ergobamanomics" as it speculates on how president-elect Barack Obama’s new administration will address ergonomic issues.

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