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Ergonomics gets dynamic

The focus for the 15th Back Health Day (Tag der Rückengesundheit) was firmly on ergonomic work bench design in industry – an area that centres on keeping workers active.

It was the turn of Adam Opel AG to host the annual awareness-raising day in March 2016. The campaign is a joint project run by the Association of German Back Schools (Bundesverband der deutschen Rückenschulen e. V., or BdR) and the Campaign for Healthy Backs (Aktion Gesunder Rücken, or AGR). The slogan for this year was “Ergodynamics – get your daily life moving!”

All the various discussions and presentations centred on one key question – what can you do to make sure employees are more aware of back health? It is hoped that a combination of ergonomic work bench systemsand industrial training will translate into an altogether more back-friendly lifestyle in the medium term.

Ergonomics at the assembly work bench

Of course, adopting this kind of approach to ergonomics makes ergonomic industrial work benches even more important. The Work Bench System from item shows exactly what an assembly work bench based on the latest research and technology can do. Equipment includes high-quality, highly adjustable chairs from Dauphin HumanDesign®lighting from Waldmann that has been optimised for use in industrial environments and ergonomic tools from Wiha. This impressive combination makes the Work Bench System from item the first – and so far the only – industrial work bench system to be awarded the AGR “Certified & recommended” seal of approval.

Presentations given by Prof. Martin Schmauder, Chair of Labour Sciences at Technische Universität Dresden, Ulrich Kuhnt, owner of Rückenschule Hannover (Hannover Back School) and ergonomics experts Jürgen Kalbeitzel and Reiner Grünen from Adam Opel AG highlighted why optimum ergonomics at the industrial work bench are so important. Everyone agreed that there are many challenges that work bench design has to tackle, particularly as back complaints are presenting increasingly early among younger employees while demographic changes mean that there is a growing number of older employees.

Keeping people in work for the long term

One important point in this context is that different employees have different needs that must be met if they are to work to their full potential – needs that can vary depending on their age, gender and experience. How a person is feeling on any given day and other psychological factors also impact on performance. When it comes to strength alone, employees over the age of 45 can be 20 percent less capable than considerably younger colleagues, depending on the kinds of forces in play. The ageing process of the eyes also means that a 60-year-old employee requires a luminous intensity of 100 Lux – more than double the amount of light that a 20-year-old needs.

Ergonomic work bench systems tackle these challenges with precisely defined handling areas, bright lighting, low-glare working surfaces, alternation between sitting and standing and versatile adjustment options that allow users to tailor the work bench to their body size. The latter point is especially important. If we compare 95 percent of the typical user groups in industrial production, the height difference between a small woman and a tall man can be more than 30 centimetres. Work benches that ignore facts like these will inevitably have a detrimental impact on the specific needs that have to be met for a worker to perform to his or her full potential.

Ergodynamics – the back-friendly lifestyle

According to data collated by the Robert Koch Institute, musculoskeletal complaints are the biggest cause of absenteeism in the workplace. Back problems often turn out to be protracted complaints that can force people to give up work before they want to. However, the actual spinal discs themselves are only affected in 5 percent of cases. By contrast, a weak point that is consistently overlooked is the lower musculature of the back. These muscles stabilise the spinal column like the counterweight of a crane, but activities that are carried out while sitting and spare time spent on the couch do little to exercise them.

That is why a healthy spinal column needs regular movement – and not just at work. All the same, the experts participating in the 15th Back Health Day in Rüsselheim agreed that none of these requirements could be met without willingness and motivation on the part of employees. From the very start, they need to be actively involved in optimising their workplaces in the pursuit of ergodynamics. Ultimately, it is the production workers who know best where processes and workflows can be adjusted. A high-quality work bench system is a sign that the company values its workforce. As such, it motivates and encourages employees to take responsibility and take the necessary steps to keep their back healthy.