Everything you wanted to know about an ergonomist, but were too afraid to ask!

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On October 12, 2015, Posted by , In Retail ergonomics, By , , With No Comments

“So, you’re an economist? “
“No. I am an ergonomist.”
“Oh, what’s that then?”

A great question. , so what is this ergonomics thing all about?

Well, in a nutshell, it is the science of getting work tasks and equipment to fit people, rather than asking people to fit (bend, reach, twist or stretch) to the tasks or equipment. Ergonomics examines a work station as a whole, in its entirety, to ensure that people are safe, comfortable and productive. This is important because there’s no point in improving one part of a work station if it then causes a problem somewhere else in the process.

We don’t usually notice good ergonomics, things just work the way they should. But bad ergonomics we DO notice, because it hurts or is slow or hard to figure out.

I work within the retail sector and spend my time examining retail ergonomics. Retail is a fascinating and unique work environment for many reasons:

  • The spaces where people work are usually small –merchandise displays get priority!
  • Retail tasks are repetitive and not self-paced; work comes in as fast as the customers do, and anyone who has ever stood in a queue in a store knows exactly how fast they want the cashier to work.
  • Retail has a lot of technology that is upgraded constantly. There is always something new to be squeezed onto the point of sale.
  • And, finally, access must be inclusive – anyone who wants to shop or visit should be able to operate any customer facing technology.

Retail ergonomics aims to address the major challenges of the work environment:

  • Ensure access for all people to public areas and in-store equipment.
  • Minimize musculoskeletal risks to operators by ensuring work spaces and equipment are well designed and laid out.
  • Enable excellent customer service
ergonomics silhouette

Examples that illustrate good ergonomics in action in retail:

  • I was asked to give an evaluation of a newly designed supermarket delicatessen cold display case. A new store had opened and during a site sign off visit everyone noticed that getting to things at the front of the cases meant employees had to lean right over and reach very far forward to pick them up. The customer asked me to evaluate the new design and make any usability recommendations. It was important that customers could easily see the products displayed AND that employees could reach and rotate stock and clean and carry out maintenance. Following the evaluation and subsequent recommendations, the final cold case was shorter in depth, had wider openings on the employee side and a hinged front that could be opened facilitating a higher standard of hygiene and easier maintenance
  • There are so many things to consider at the point of sale. For example, the actual location in the store where payment happens. Good ergonomic design at the checkout and cash desk helps to ensure that operators can scan products, process payments quickly and comfortably and where required, pack goods. Customers have to be able to unload, pack their items and pay. Payment must be secure and private, and not overlooked by the person next in the queue.

Why involve ergonomists in the design process?

  • The consultancy process is quick and cost effective. Advice can take as little as half a day
  • Problems can be identified early on and before changes become expensive and disruptive.
  • To ensure that effectiveness, efficiency and user satisfaction are built into the design from the outset.
  • Improve the buy-in of staff and other key stakeholders.

The Benefits of Good Ergonomics – why bother?

Any workspace, including those in retail that adhere to good ergonomic principles will have been designed around the people who will use it.

A well-designed workspace can:

  • improve productivity and service levels
  • reduce sickness, absence and compensation claims
  • ensure legal compliance

And, really, who doesn’t want all of this in their organisation?

To find out how we can help you deliver first class ergonomics that benefits staff and customers alike see our Ergonomics Consultancy service.

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