Ergonomics from 1950 to the 21st Century

30 October 2018

Ergonomics Moves from War to Consumers

After World War 2, ergonomics focused on product design and convenience.  In the 1950s ergonomics developed a focus on people in systems, now called “human factors.” Ergonomics sometimes is called HFE, Human Factors/Ergonomics. The military interest in ergonomics continued, with the development of more complex weapons technologies. Ergonomics also developed an interest in the safety and welfare of employees, resulting in the formation in the United States of NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), (McCauley-Bush 2011). Product development, military interest and employee well-being are what drive ergonomics today

Probably the most complex environments for applied ergonomics are the hostile environments of outer space and the deep sea, encountered NASA spacecraft and Navy submarines. However, existing work environments can also be hostile. Musculoskeletal injuries (MSDs) cost the American economy a huge amount of money. MSDs amount to 130 million total health encounters (which include outpatient, hospital and emergency room visits). The yearly cost of compensation, lost wages and lost productivity is estimated to be between $45 billion and $54 billion (CDC 2016). The notable thing here is that the occurrence of MSDs can be sharply reduced by well-designed equipment and procedures.

Office Biomechanics and the Ergonomic Cure

Biomechanics has become important in ergonomic design. For example. poor posture in sitting at a computer work station, particularly in periods of prolonged sitting, places strain on ligaments, joints and muscles (Dul and Weerdmeester 2008).  In ergonomics, people are part of a system and people issues are system issues. This includes MSD injuries, absenteeism, high levels of human error and overall quality (Bridger 2003).

One analysis of an energy company office with 40 work stations found that 58% of employees reported eyestrain, 45% reported shoulder pain, and 43% back pain (Shikdar and Al-Kindi 2015). Providing employees with ergonomically well-designed equipment, such as adjustable standing desks and monitor desk mounts helps reduce the prevalence of these complaints.

Quality ergonomic office equipment contributes to overall productivity. Equipment that allows an active workstation, active in the sense of walking or cycling, results in significant health benefits, and fights the health risks associated with prolonged sitting at a work station (Straker and Levine, 2009). An under desk bike is an example of ergonomic technology that contributes to employee well-being.

The field of ergonomics continues to develop. Its latest trend might be called environmental ergonomics, referring to the work environment, and including factors such as ambient light, sound and temperature. The focus remains on a combination of workforce well-being, and productivity (Wilson 2000).

Ergonomic analysis has been applied to many fields of endeavor, from designing an astronaut’s gear to surgical equipment. A century ago when what would eventually be called ergonomics started to gain traction, there were no specialists in designing office equipment. Early on it was the office furniture manufacturers who analyzed the needs of modern offices, and then designed equipment. The Shaw-Walker Company, for example, designed a desk that would organize 80,000 file cards so they would be in reach of a worker (Uber 2015).

Ergonomically Manufactured Office Equipment

It’s still the case that equipment manufacturers are leading the pack when it comes to specific kinds of ergonomically designed office equipment. We at FlexiSpot are one of these innovative companies. Our products continue the tradition of office equipment manufacturers coming up with new products that increase employee well-being and productivity. Our Standing Desk Mate Under Desk Bikes exemplify this kind of innovation. So do our other products, such height-adjustable desks and riser standing desks.

A characteristic of current business change is the rise of the “gig economy.” This refers to people working independently from home, often as consultants or writers. Well-designed ergonomic equipment can lower the possibility of MSDs in the office at home, with the additional element of preventing injuries for people not covered by employer health programs.

Ergonomics as a field is now very well established, and continues to analyze equipment, tools, workplace environments and procedures. Not all businesses and other establishments have availed themselves of products that improve the workplace by using ergonomic design. Those that have done so experience increased efficiency, heightened safety and increased productivity.


Bridger, R. S.,  Introduction to Ergonomics, ebook edition. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2003.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Work Related Musculoskeletal Diseases (WMSDs) Evaluation Measures. CDC Website 2016. Accessed 8/9/2018.

Dul, Jan and Bernard Weerdmeester, Ergonomics for Beginners, 3rd Ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008.

McCaauley-Bush, Pamela,  Ergonomics: Foundational Principles, Applications and technologies. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2011.

Shikdar, Ashraf, and Mahmoud Al-Kindi, “Office Ergonomics: Deficiencies in Computer Workstation Design.” International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, vol. 13, #2, 2015. 215- 223.

Straker, Leon, James Levine, and Amity Campbell, 2009. “The Effects of Walking and Cycling Computer Workstations in Keyboard and Mouse Performance.” Human Factors, vol. 51, #6. 831-844.

Uber, Terrence, “The Historical Foundational of Efficient Office Design and Ergonomics.” Interior Design Educator’s Council, 2015 Proceedings.

Wilson, John, “Fundamentals of ergonomics in theory and practice.” Applied Ergonomics, #31. 2000. 557-67.