KANBrief 1/11

The ErgoMach programme: ergonomics for all

Our working world would be more humane, employees healthier, and companies more efficient if ergonomic findings were more frequently put into practice. The participants at a workshop held in 2008 dealing with the ergonomics requirements of the new Machinery Directive found the essential difficulty to be not the new requirements themselves, but poor communication between the research community and the field (See KANBrief 3/2008). They therefore decided there and then to address this problem.

Much too often, the ergonomic design of work equipment is branded a luxury, a requirement made by people out of touch with reality, and one that is not financially viable. ErgoMach has set itself the task of raising awareness among the affected groups for the fact that good ergonomic design of work equipment benefits everyone concerned. Behind the initiative is a group of European OSH and prevention specialists formed at the KAN/DGUV workshop referred to above. ErgoMach coordinates its activities with European institutions, but is not tied to any existing structure.

The first tangible result of ErgoMach's work can be read in the European Commission's Guide to application of the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC, for which the group formulated the section concerning the ergonomic requirements. The objective was to explain the requirements sufficiently comprehensibly that designers, prevention experts and market surveillance officers, the main parties using the guide, would be able to apply it without recourse to further sources. Nine key terms used to describe the ergonomics requirements in the directive were explained in further depth, supplemented with illustrated examples, and crossreferenced to the relevant standards. These explanations are to be hyperlinked to the guide. In addition, links will be provided to a comprehensive catalogue of standards in order to provide assistance to the manufacturers.

During the development of standards as well, however, virtually no exchange of information takes place between CEN/TC 122 (the Technical Committee for ergonomics) and the committees in which the machinery standards are developed. Hardly any machinery standards committee for example includes an ergonomics expert. A step towards redressing this situation has now been taken with the creation, at ErgoMach's suggestion, of continual liaison between CEN/TCs 114 (Machinery) and 122.

Since liaison is a good sign but still far from sufficient, a bridging paper is also being developed, again in response to a proposal by ErgoMach. This is to promote mutual understanding of the principles of standardization in the areas of ergonomics and machinery, which until now have differed considerably. The bridging paper integrates the risk approach taken in ergonomics standards into the principles of the EN ISO 12100 generic machinery standard, as a result of which machine designers will in future also be able to address ergonomic issues using the procedure with which they are familiar.

In order to help non-ergonomics experts outside Germany to find standards governing ergonomic issues, a request made by ErgoMach has been implemented: the existing English version of the ErgoNoRA search tool has been restructured such that the hit lists now contain only European and international standards.

The "feedback method" developed by a number of European OSH institutions was used in several projects to survey users of machines (such as industrial trucks, combine harvesters, telescopic loaders) systematically regarding their usage habits and their appraisal of the ergonomic properties. The results were then forwarded to the appropriate standards committees. Before now, neither ergonomics experts nor designers had studied users' experience with machines systematically and on a wide scale - except under defined laboratory conditions - and transferred the findings to the field of standardization. At ErgoMach's instigation, Working Group 2 of CEN/TC 122 therefore took the decision to produce a standards document concerning the feedback method.

One of the most ambitious goals of ErgoMach is to create a web-based European communications platform in order to permit fruitful exchange between designers, ergonomics experts, users, purchasers, standardization experts, authorities and prevention experts. The first element to go live was the website. ErgoMach will discuss the further development of the platform with the specialist public on 20 October 2011 at the A+A Congress in Düsseldorf.

Thomas Kolbinger