Inside the Ergonomics Toolbox
This CD-ROM offers good introductory help for industrial environments dealing with manual material handling problems.
- By Valerie Weadock
- Mar 01, 2003
IN a perfect world, every company large or small would have a trained
professional on staff to evaluate and solve ergonomic problems. But in the real
world, the responsibility often falls in the hands of someone with little formal
"Companies may not have someone who knows ergonomics as a science, but they
realize its importance and know that it's something they need to address," says
Tom Carbott, senior director of the Material Handling Industry of America
(MHIA). "A large percentage of the time, the responsibility falls onto someone
in charge of various job functions, a multiple-hat wearer."
Recognizing what they felt was a knowledge deficiency, members of the
Ergonomics Assist Systems and Equipment (EASE) Council of MHIA set out to
develop an educational resource on ergonomic assist devices for the
"non-academic" end user. With the help of the University of Minnesota-Duluth and
Cleveland University, the Ergonomics ToolboxTM
was created. Designed to assist users in task evaluation and equipment
recommendation, the interactive, multimedia CD-ROM is a basic resource for
assessing and addressing ergonomic issues in manual material handling
While the program is plagued with cheesy, almost
amusing graphics, don't dismiss it for mere entertainment or a child's game. As
in an actual toolbox, the real value of the Ergonomics Toolbox is definitely not
in its general explanation of ergonomics, nor its video demonstrations of
ergonomic hazards; they're only the outer casing or box itself. The real value
is in the evaluation and recommendation segments; they are the hammer,
screwdriver, and other tools even the most inexperienced handyman can't live
After the user identifies ergonomic hazards in the early parts of the
program, he can enter specific task criteria, including the height to which an
object is lifted, at what angle, how far it is carried, and how often the task
is performed, into a simple on-screen form. Each of the form's sections includes
parameters for guidance and an object to click on for further clarification.
"All of the information required is fairly easy to ascertain," Carbott says.
"The quality of the information is going to depend on the individual using the
program, but most people would be able to provide numbers close enough to get a
Once the form is complete, the user simply clicks on the calculator icon and
the Ergonomics Toolbox uses the information provided to determine whether or not
the task characteristics are above the maximum permissible limit (MPL), action
limit, recommended force, or maximum force a worker can safely manage. A task
can be evaluated based on up to three evaluation methods, including NIOSH,
MITAL, and SNOOK, depending on which methods apply to that particular task.
If a task being performed at his facility is calculated to exceed safety
limits, the user can continue to the program's equipment selector guide. Here,
after the user re-enters some of the task characteristics, the program
recommends ergonomic assist equipment (engineering controls) to address the
problematic tasks. Each recommendation includes a written description and
photograph of the piece of equipment. Unfortunately, the majority of these
images are small and slightly blurry, but the name and description of the
machine should suffice in finding further information and/or guiding purchase
Serving a Clear Purpose
While many ergonomic programs tout the
importance of administrative interventions, the authors of the Ergonomics
Toolbox take a more "proactive" approach. "Both engineering and administrative
solutions can be employed, but to ensure the greatest ergonomic and productivity
benefits, engineering interventions must be the primary focus in the industrial
and manufacturing environment," the text explains in the Introduction to
Ergonomics section of the program.
Is this questionable advice, coming from an organization comprised of several
ergonomic assist device manufacturers and software programs? No, there's no
fishy business here. Carbott maintains the program is pretty much a "break even"
venture intended for educational purposes rather than profit. "We designed this
program to bring the end user a higher level of awareness and understanding of
the ergonomic process," he says. "We hope that they can later apply that
knowledge when beginning a project where they deal with equipment vendors."
In the case of the untrained individual, the Ergonomics Toolbox accomplishes
that objective. From the moment the user knocks (clicks) on the program's
virtual door and throughout his tour of the cyber factory, he is given
applicable information in a simplified format without too obvious a sales pitch.
"The amount of attention companies pay to ergonomic hazards tends to be
stimulated by agency standards, proposed or in place," says Carbott.
"Irregardless of what you think of the standard, ergonomic controls do benefit
the individual, the company, and ultimately productivity." [OHS endbug]
The Ergonomics ToolboxTM is a CD-ROM, single-user version. System operating
requirements are an IBM® PC or 100 percent compatible computer (Pentium
processor), minimum of 32 MB RAM to operate, 10x or better CD-ROM drive, a color
monitor set at 640 x 480 or higher, and a Windows® 95 (or higher) operating
system. It is priced at $75. For more information, visit www.mhia.org or call
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.