Greater consideration for ergonomics in standards and in practical application
“Ergonomic requirements must cease to be regarded as optional extras.“ At the workshop on ergonomic requirements, representatives of the European Commission, CEN, the social partners, researchers and specialists from the sphere of standardization were in agreement that ergonomic issues must be regarded by engineers as a natural part of the machine design process.
Besides this generic objective, the workshop participants formulated a whole series of proposals which are benefi cial and well suited to implementation:
Practitioners on the ground require a new guide to supplement the text of the new Machinery Directive itself, preferably before application of the latter becomes mandatory. Since the European Commission has only limited resources at its disposal for production of the guide, it was agreed that a small working group would be created which will support the Commission in formulation of the ergonomic part.
In turn, this part of the guide could form the core of an ergonomic guidance paper for members of the standards committees. In this latter guide, CEN could compile all ergonomic requirements of the directive, not only those occurring in Point 1.1.6, “Ergonomics“ of Annex I. Although specialists for the corresponding machine types are active in the standards committees, it is not uncommon for no committee member to possess the necessary ergonomic expertise. This document would provide TCs responsible for Type C machinery standards with a useful point of reference for their work.
A further proposal to CEN is that of establishing the subject of ergonomics fi rmly in Type C standards. For Annex ZA of the harmonized standards, for example, inclusion of an “Ergonomics“ section could be made compulsory, or the machinery standards could be assessed by an “Ergonomics Consultant“. Although this would not of itself guarantee quality, it would prevent ergonomics from being overlooked in the future.
In order for the quality of ergonomics provisions in standards also to be promoted, one proposal made by the workshop was for CEN to employ advisory groups of ergonomics experts who could be consulted by the TCs responsible for the standardization of machinery. This would have the additional effect of reinforcing contacts between TC 122 (Ergonomics) and the 45 or so TCs who deal with machinery standardization. An advisory group could be at the disposal of several or all TCs, or alternatively integrated into a particular TC, on the model of the advisory group for workplace safety and health in TC 256.
In addition to the measures taken at CEN, a systematic procedure should be put in place by which practical experience gained by users can be made available to the standards committees. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) presented the “FEEDBACK” method, by which this could be attained with little effort.
The workshop also proposed that, following a launch event, a permanent discussion platform should be created on which users, manufacturers, ergonomics experts (for example from the FEES1 and relevant research institutes), standards developers and the European Commission could pool their knowledge. A proposal with a similar aim is that for a helpdesk to be created under the umbrella of the EUROSHNET network2 in which experts throughout Europe could answer questions concerning ergonomics on machinery within a specifi ed timeframe. A similar model already exists in the area of the Pressure Equipment Directive.
A further suggestion was that new research initiatives be launched in order for ergonomics to be developed further on a sound basis and for the fi ndings to be made available for exploitation in standards.
In the long term, however, the most important issue is that of grass-roots advocacy. In training, beginning with that of designers, ergonomics must cease to be a peripheral issue. Purchasers of machines must also be persuaded that ergonomically designed products are a worthwhile investment, since the health and satisfaction of machine operators translates into higher productivity.
In order to prevent these proposals from receiving favourable acknowledgement from delegates only to disappear into the conference proceedings, a small group agreed informally at the conference itself to develop the tasks and objectives, which in the two and a half hours available could by necessity only be outlined, into a plan of action.
Dr. Fabio Strambi email@example.com
Thomas Kolbinger mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org