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Ergonomics: Engineering Ethics Report


Executive summary

This report looks at ergonomics in job design and workplace designs in the context of mass production to evaluate the benefits and tradeoffs that arise. It explores the motivations that influence management decisions about improving worker efficiency and flexibility to enhance the productivity of firms. The report relies on other studies that have presented evidence of how job designs, specific changes in working environments, and job systems work. The findings show that the biological job design approach is one of the most recognized ones for addressing job stresses caused by physical exertions in the workplace or addressing gender-based differences in workplace design, which allows more participation of female workers.

The report offers insights into how organizations can use different job designs to address their concerns about absenteeism, workplace injuries, and the health concerns of their workers. It provides a lengthy discussion of the tradeoffs that have to be made regarding the different approaches to job designs, showing job titles that can be most affected in a positive or negative way. Practitioners may use the insights to set up workplaces that minimize boredom, limit stress, and enhance worker productivity in multiple ways regarding all ergonomic principles.

Introduction

Ergonomics can be found in contemporary society as a term used for a wide variety of applications. In the engineering perspective, ergonomics closely associates with human factors of comfort design, functional design, and system. The engineer has to design products, systems, and processes that are cognizant of the interaction they will have with people or among people using the systems (Hopp & Oyen, 2004). The benefits are behavioral, psychosocial and concern health of people. There could also be economic benefits caused by increased productivity of users of particular systems, products, and processes (Inoue et al., 2015).

Engineering yields practical outcomes that are considered in the design, manufacture, and operation of useful devices and processes. They are often on a large scale regarding their size and the individual number of outcomes. Meanwhile, engineers view ethics as an arcane theoretical aspect of philosophy, but it involves conceptual analysis and contemplation. It is a practical way in which individuals can choose to act and live (Inoue et al., 2015). Ethical decisions have significant consequences, the same way that engineering decisions have.

Ethics can be interchanged with morality in most social cases. In this report’s perspective, ethics relates to the engineering obligation to make the most useful product as measured by its effects on humans (Hopp & Oyen, 2004). The report looks at the causes of worker accidents, losses in productivity, health problems, and emotional problems such as boredom that are caused by poorly designed jobs and workplaces. However, the paper begins with a background of workplace design motivation, drawing from theoretical and empirical findings from researchers in the field of ergonomics, and engineering.

Demands for production efficiency, worker flexibility, and associated risks

In the enterprise environment, opportunities emerge as passing favorable situations. The temporary nature of opportunities calls for an agile strategy to embrace them. Meanwhile, the workforce composition continues to be diversified, especially in developed countries like the US, UK, Canada, and Australia (Hopp & Oyen, 2004). Diversity covers a broad range of issues such as age, ability, and background. At the same time, the only way to ensure organizational sustainability would be having workplace safety, employee satisfaction, and retention with appropriate health and well-being.

Although many manufacturing centers are reducing their demand for workers on the assembly line because of their high-automated systems, the activities of manual assembly continue to emerge in new forms. They require sustained high-quality input in repetitive movements, which also impose high demand for physical exertion and mental concentration (Inoue et al., 2015). Ergonomics has a leading role in the development of workplace environments that are risk-free and safe, healthy, and productive for humans.

Manufacturing firms have to show a high demand for ergonomics-based design, with the principle of designing-for-all. The approach should allow the firms to address the needs of a diversified workforce. The working capabilities of an individual and their coping strategies become the inputs for a pre-design phase of any design assignment (Hussain, Marshall, Summerskill, & Case, 2013).

The gender of the workforce has an effect on the risk of injury in workplaces that involve manufacturing. Precisely, female laborers are more prone to injuries than male laborers. The way a male or female manager responds to cases of injuries or stress as reported by workers also influences the risk of injury in workplaces. The other explanations for ergonomic factors or differential training are not likely to be affected by the supervisor’s gender, according to the study by Kubo, Cullen, Desai, and Modrek (2013). Kubo et al. (2013) showed that ergonomics has often been part of hypothesized explanations of reasons for high rates of injury among women.

One explanation was that workplaces for the female ergonomics were missing. Inherent ergonomic differences between males and females are also thought to affect the eventual outcomes of safety in manufacturing workplaces for both genders. The study by Kubo et al. (2013) also confirmed that in a high-demand department, the hazard of acute injury was lower than in other less demanding sections of a manufacturing plant. The possible reason was that those who were injury prone were not considered for high-demand jobs, and high-demand areas often had more male workers than female workers.

As sophisticated equipment takes up manufacturing assembly tasks, more people have to do jobs that make them sit stationary as they monitor systems. Low back pain is a common musculoskeletal disorder and a major problem of prolonged sitting, but it can be reduced by having an appropriate posture when sitting (Hopp & Oyen, 2004). Firms have considered the use of ergonomic furniture as a remedy for the health problem and ways of reducing health concerns for their employees. Firms recognize that lack of attention to the issue would lead to high employee turnover intentions. A novel dynamic chair caused less lumbar flexion and less back muscle activation than sitting in a standard backless office chair during a typing task as observed by O’sullivan, Mccarthy, White, O’sullivan, and Dankaets (2012).

The study established that having chairs that had a backrest exerted less back pain and fatigue due to reduced muscle activation. The researchers also acknowledged the contradictions of the benefits of dynamic sitting. Some studies show that dynamic sitting causes an increase of spinal motion in sitting, but studies have not presented a clear picture of the effects when the spine column is adjusted. At the same time, sitting has been associated with high rates of spinal flexion compared to standing, prompting some firms to consider the provision of standing desks and designing workstations so that workers do typing and computer-related tasks while they are standing, with occasional requirements for sitting (Inoue et al., 2015).

Mass production, repetitive tasks, and poorly designed workplaces are considered significant contributors to worker boredom. Boredom can be too costly compared to overwork, both in the health of the worker and in the output of a firm. Boredom arises when none of the things available for doing are appealing. It is a distinct emotional state where stimulation levels become unsatisfactorily low. The absence of external stimulus triggers the search for diversity (Hussain et al., 2013). When workers cannot satisfy their curiosity, they become bored.

The fact is that workplaces cannot be too open and free to accommodate every interest of the different employees, but they can have specific designs and processes that can help to reduce boredom tendencies. Boredom alerts an individual that all is not well. It pressurizes the individual to do something, and it motivates people to express challenge-seeking behavior (Inoue et al., 2015). The management can also explore employee boredom to understand the interests, values, beliefs, and attitudes of the workers. Managers can view boredom as an adaptive tactic. It can also be a condition that points to the need for providing critical inputs and leaving out unnecessary process burdens.

Hopp and Oyen (2004) note that as global competition elevates the role of operating practices in manufacturing, firms find themselves competing on multiple dimensions of cost, quality, delivery time, and product variety. To do so, companies need efficient operations tailored to the particular needs of their customers. Increasingly, firms are relying on the heightened level of efficiency and flexibility of their workers with the framework of production agility (Hussain et al., 2013). The framework covers three facets. The first facet entails relations between firms while the second facet entails the resources that are available to the firm, including the infrastructure. The final facet involves the labor force that is available to the firm.

Companies realize that cross-trained workers are agile, and they represent flexible capacity. Cross-trained employees can work in different departments comfortably, thereby leading to increased productivity. Such workers allow a firm to manage its operations with a small workforce compared to the number it would need when relying on specialized workers (Hopp & Oyen, 2004).

Usage of system designs by firms to address ergonomic concerns

Recently, system design focus has shifted to new design approaches that are necessary for developing modern complex systems that do not have a stable environment and stable task procedure characteristics. Such approaches consider the supply of resources to individuals working in a dynamic workspace (Inoue et al., 2015). The approaches also include engaging in collaborative relationships, using a variety of technology, and adapting behavioral patterns to changes in environmental conditions (Hussain et al., 2013).

It is no longer sufficient to use cause and effect patterns to describe such systems. New system design principles embrace new technologies and modern management practices. With such approaches, there are principles followed based on a macro ergonomic perspective. Under macro ergonomics, the human-environment-machine interfaces come into consideration. Micro ergonomics focuses on the human-machine interface. In manufacturing, the macro ergonomic concepts are applicable to varied successes (Kubo et al., 2013).

Systems can also be designed according to participatory ergonomics, where ergonomic principles and concepts are applied to participants and members of the workgroup going to use the system. The individuals making the design receive assistance from ergonomic experts with the intention of capitalizing knowledge and incorporating needs and concerns into the design process. The management has to conduct functional allocation when designing the right workplace. Machine capabilities are reviewed and automated whenever possible (Salvendy, 2012). Some tasks have to be performed by humans.

The task of the management is to prevent under load, inattention and job dissatisfaction, which can be contributors to boredom. The management also undertakes task analysis to ensure that human performance requirements match operators’ or users’ needs and capabilities. On job design, the management looks at the work that a person performs concerning work content, distribution of work, work role, and the person’s profile (Inoue et al., 2015). Here, considerations should be placed on workload requirements and psychosocial aspects of work. People have expectations and needs, which the management has to understand and direct in an effective manner (Salvendy, 2012).

The modern management principle is for optimizing human-system functioning. Organizations have a duty to sustain workplace health and safety for workers. Safe work environments are critical to the success of the business, and they help to retain staff and maximize productivity (Hussain et al., 2013). They have to be considered as part of the strategies to improve worker efficiency and reduce boredom. System design principles that consider environmental perspectives and ergonomics of the workplaces are useful for setting up safe and healthy workplaces.

The management responsibilities for the health and safety of workplaces are entrenched in many regulations aiming to protect workers. Nevertheless, ensuring the safety of employees should be the ethical thing to do for managers. The basic health and safety regulations cover premises, machinery and materials, systems of work, information, instruction, training, and supervision, and a suitable working environment and facilities. Modern management practices embrace these guidelines as a way of preventing prosecutions and fines, besides the advantage of retaining skilled staffs (Hussain et al., 2013).

Tradeoffs of job design including boredom, stress, and motivation effects

The biggest challenge for management practices is to balance the need for worker flexibility and concern for efficiency. While doing so, the management has to evaluate risks of boredom and other problems that can arise from job dissatisfaction, which compromises the productivity of a firm. The organization theory argues that bureaucracy is necessary for achieving efficiency, yet it is also a major cause of lack of flexibility. Some manufacturing firms have been able to achieve both efficiency and flexibility results in their operations concurrently (Inoue et al., 2015).

The outcome is possible in a manufacturing plant through the efficient performance of non-routine tasks. Allowing workers and suppliers to contribute to non-routine tasks while working on routine production and temporarily separating routine and non-routine tasks (Hussain et al., 2013). During separation, workers are switched between the tasks. Besides, the inclusion of novel forms of organization partitioning ensures that subunits are setup to work on routine and non-routine tasks. However, the favorable outcome can only be achieved when there is a supporting organizational context, trust, and leadership (Thayer, 2001).

Different job designs available and their tradeoffs

People have a natural tendency to assume that a job design is a fixed parameter dependent on technology such that when there is poor performance, the blame goes to the worker. Although the above assumption is false, the presence of four distinct job design approaches makes the solution difficult to achieve; hence, the need for tradeoffs (Hussain et al., 2013). The mechanistic job design approach focuses on scientific management practices. It seeks to simplify work. Specialization promotes automation when jobs require repetition.

Unfortunately, it leads to less satisfied, less motivated employees. Specialization contributes to high absenteeism as workers use all kinds of excuses to avoid what they would consider a boring workplace because it lacks novel stimulations (Hussain et al., 2013). The approach works well when the jobs allocated are low industrial mechanistic works. Even then, the risks involved are significant, and they include carelessness or physical wear that can lead to injuries and health complaints. Firms have to evaluate their need to provide workers with a dependable routine that allows them to do a high-quality job and to address their boredom and other routine based concerned (Hopp & Oyen, 2004).

The motivational job design approach has been hailed as an alternative to the mechanistic one as it is associated with jobs that are satisfied, motivated, and involve employees. In such designs, the absentees reported are usually for genuine reasons other than job dissatisfaction. The stimulating nature of highly motivational jobs, however, presents employees and management with the challenge of dealing with high stress and mental overload problems. Jobs can be done badly, with many errors. The motivational job design approach is good for executive, managerial, and professional jobs because workers need motivators to excel.

These jobs are satisfying and rewarding and would be very motivating when they match interests and aspirations of a worker (Hussain et al., 2013). The problem with the jobs is that they need extensive training and experience, and they present conditions for major errors. The management uses motivational principles to enhance the meaningfulness of many office, factory, and service-oriented jobs. However, this can only be done to a particular degree because they may become very expensive for the firm and those who are initially working on those jobs will have undergone too much stress before the systems are rectified (Thayer, 2001).

Another approach to job design is biological, where biomechanics knowledge plays a central role. The work physiology, occupational medicine, and anthropometry are also guiding factors for this approach. Ergonomics is also the eventual outcome target where the intention is to minimize the physical costs and biological risks of work. The goal is achieved when people’s physical abilities and limitations are not exceeded by the design of their jobs. Unfortunately, this consideration has often been ignored because managers also try to gain the benefits of the other job design approaches and are not too keen on biomechanics concerns of their workers (Thayer, 2001).

The jobs that have a high rating on the biological approach need less physical effort. They also lead to less physical fatigue and create fewer health complaints. Such jobs have fewer injuries reported. Workers in these jobs have lower absenteeism and higher job satisfaction because they do not have to exert themselves too much physically compared with other jobs. The biological approach, with its ergonomic benefits, has drawbacks.

The shortcomings are mostly unrelated to other aspects of job design. For example, when considering the changes to make for jobs to have a biological design, a firm will have to undertake expensive redesigns of the workplace and invest in new equipment or job environments, which can be very costly. If the overall goal is to limit the physical demand for workers, then eventual job designs can promote idleness, causing drowsiness and lethargic characteristics of workers (Hopp & Oyen, 2004).

The biological approach with its ergonomic principles continues to serve as a major influence in job environments and design of workplace equipment because it has allowed more women to enter and work effectively in previously strenuous job positions. Examples include making handles on equipment small enough to accommodate female workers and designing desks to influence proper sitting position. This has been explored further in this paper in the section on ergonomics and manufacturing (Thayer, 2001).

A final job design is perceptual/motor job design approach. It focuses on how people mentally process information. The method emphasizes the perceptual and motor abilities, and it can be seen as part of experimental psychology (Thayer, 2001). Rather than exceed physical limitations and capabilities, the approach focuses on the mental aspects to ensure that jobs do not lead to excesses. The merits of the approach included reduced workplace accidents.

It also reduces mental demands of jobs as a way to lower stress and reduce training times. As a result, worker utilization levels increase. A large number of workers can perform many tasks in the workplace without significant need for training, which corresponds to the organization’s keenness to facilitate cross working as a way of boost efficiency. The problem with the approach is that it can lower satisfaction and motivation because the reduction of mental strain may also cause jobs to be less stimulating (Thayer, 2001).

Challenges faced in producing the required information and solutions

The challenge of providing the necessary information was coming up with an effective way to narrow down the large pool of information so that it remained relevant to the paper, without leaving to many gaps in research. Also, there was a challenge of synthesizing books, journals, and articles within a short time to establish a complete understanding of the various aspects of ergonomics, engineering ethics, worker productivity issues, modern management insights, and manufacturing sector challenges so that they would all fit into a comprehensive report that demonstrated engineering professional competencies.

Lessons learned and recommendations

One lesson learned in this assignment is that opinions differ in almost all scholarly pursuits, with theories and counterarguments for many ideas existing. Unless there is a particular thesis being pursued, it can be tough to synthesize and present information. The recommendation for other practitioners working on a similar task would be to start early and set up a plan for getting data. Meanwhile, the lesson learned from the subject is that no single job design or system design can solve the multifaceted problems of productivity, flexibility, and efficiency in the workplace (Thayer, 2001).

Demonstrated Competencies

This assignment has demonstrated competencies in knowledge and skill base, where comprehensive theory based understandings have been incorporated to deliver the report. Discernment of knowledge has also been demonstrated. The report expresses the fluent use of the systematic approach to engineering application ability. It is also based on sufficient attribution of sources of information to show compliance with professional and personal attribute competencies of an engineer. The information available has been professionally managed when forming the report’s discussion.

Conclusion

Setting up work spaces with ergonomics is essential. However, the most important thing is to follow the right approach so that the advantages and disadvantages of a given system design or job design are not too costly for a firm. Besides, organizations have to consider their specific job demands and other employee features before settling on a given design.

References

Hopp, W. J., & Oyen, M. P. (2004). Agile workforce evaluation: A framework for cross-training and coordination. IiE Transactions, 36(10), 919-940.

Hussain, A., Marshall, R., Summerskill, S., & Case, K. (2013). Workforce diversity and ergonomic challenges for sustainable manufacturing organizations. In Advances in ergonomics in manufacturing (Stefan Trzcielinski; Waldermar Karwowski ed., pp. 23-32). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Inoue, G., Miyagi, M., Uchida, K., Ishikawa, T., Kamoda, H., Eguchi, Y.,… Ohtori, S. (2015). The prevalence and characteristics of low back pain among sitting workers in a Japanese manufacturing company. Journal of Orthopaedic Science, 20(1), 23-30.

Kubo, J. T., Cullen, M. R., Desai, M., & Modrek, S. (2013). Associations between employee and manager gender: Impacts on gender-specific risk of acute occupational injury in metal manufacturing. BMC Public Health, 13, 1053.

O’sullivan, K., Mccarthy, R., White, A., O’sullivan, L., & Dankaerts, W. (2012). Lumbar posture and trunk muscle activation during a typing task when sitting on a novel dynamic ergonomic chair. Ergonomics, 55(12), 1586-1595.

Salvendy, G. (Ed.). (2012). Handbook of human factors and ergonomics. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Thayer, M. A. (2001). Organizational Dynamics, pp. 66-79. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Ergonomics: Engineering Ethics." July 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ergonomics-engineering-ethics/.

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