What makes ergonomics “green”?

Walt Rostykus

Walt Rostykus

As a break from my planned series on the key strategic elements of successful ergonomics management systems, I want to share some insight from James Good, President of Humantech Inc., regarding ergonomics and LEED. Jim writes:

The ergonomic conditions of a building are neither as obvious nor as intuitive as safety and security.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines ergonomics as the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population. Effective and successful “fits” increase productivity, reduce illness and injury risks, and increase worker satisfaction.

One assumes that, by definition, any program or initiative that reduces waste, increases productivity and reduces worker injury or illness—and does more with less—is inherently a conservation activity. But let’s dig a little deeper.

The main objectives of sustainable design are to avoid resource depletion of energy, water and raw materials (conservation); prevent environmental degradation caused by facilities and infrastructure throughout their life cycle; and create built environments that are livable, comfortable, safe and productive.

Protecting the health, safety and security of a building’s occupants has expanded beyond disease prevention and nuisance control. It now includes considerations for mental as well as physical health and productivity through the creation of places that exhilarate and delight as they exhibit the realization of human creative potential.

Healthy, comfortable employees are invariably more satisfied and productive. Unfortunately, this simple, compelling truth is often lost, for it is simpler to focus on the first-cost of a project than it is to determine the value of increased user productivity and health. Facilities should be constructed with a focus on providing high-quality interior environments for all users.

Over ten years ago, the U.S. General Services Association (the nation’s landlord) concluded in The Integrated Workplace: A Comprehensive Approach to Developing Workspace that “since people are the most important resource and greatest expense of any organization, the long-term cost benefits of a properly designed, user-friendly work environment should be factored into any initial cost considerations.”

With the launch of LEED® 2009, the U.S. Green Building Council recognized the value of workplace ergonomics as a proactive process. The Innovation in Design Process category provides for five possible points, of which one point can be obtained for good ergonomic design of existing or planned workspaces.

What constitutes good ergonomic design?  “A comprehensive ergonomics strategy that will have a positive impact on human health and comfort when performing daily activity for at least 75 percent of Full Time Equivalent building users.”

While environmental sustainability focuses on the impact of building design on the environment, ergonomics focuses on the impact of the building work environment on the occupant. Good ergonomic design is a critical element of building design; it can significantly hamper or greatly enhance the performance of occupants.

So, what is your choice?

About Walt Rostykus

Walt Rostykus is a vice president with Humantech Inc., a consulting firm that combines the science of ergonomics with the company’s unique 30-Inch View® to deliver practical solutions that impact safety, quality, and productivity.

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