Pens, office supplies or tools that sit snugly in your hand increase your working pleasure. This also applies to office chairs that are easy on the back. Ergonomics is the linchpin for this. The renowned German Institut für Gesundheit und Ergonomie (Institute for Health and Ergonomics, IGR) certifies ergonomic products and, with its extensive network, collates the latest research findings on ergonomics. Today, the IGR, founded back in 1998, advises companies on occupational health and safety. Ralf Eisele, Head of Marketing and Sales since 2013, is one of the "IGR counsellors for the back". We talked to him about how ergonomics is incorporated into product development.
Ergonomics means adapting working conditions to people and not vice versa. What does ergonomics involve?
Ralf Eisele: On the one hand, ergonomics consists of environmental ergonomics. This means that the product design is adapted to the dimensions of the human body. At the workplace, this includes the ergonomic design of work equipment and the work environment, including fixtures, the lighting and acoustic conditions. Another field is behavioural ergonomics, that is to say teaching people to behave in a healthy way. As a practical example, this is the ergonomically correct adjustment and use of work equipment.
What needs to be considered when developing ergonomic products?
R. E.: When developing a new product, it's vital that people with very different physical builds can each handle it safely and with little strain. This applies to work equipment as well as to everyday objects.
At what stage of development do you recommend bringing in experts if your company lacks in-house expertise?
R. E.: The earlier, the better. Because if you include ergonomic requirements in the development of new products early on, you avoid having to make expensive corrections at a later date. Taking ergonomic requirements into consideration should take place parallel to the development of technical functionality.
Are there any typical mistakes that can be avoided when developing ergonomic products?
R. E.: The ergonomic shape of a product is just one aspect. At the same time, developers should consider whether there is any risk of incorrect or faulty operation by users when handling or adjusting a product. Because the desired preventive effect can turn into the opposite, for example, when it comes to adjusting an office chair to their own personal needs. If they don't use the multitude of adjustment options or use them incorrectly, this can lead to physical complaints in the long run. That's why it's worth developers' while to pay attention to designing operating elements that are as intuitive as possible and writing instructions for use that are easy to understand. When it comes to products requiring explanation, personal training by experts is essential.
Among experts, the IGR has a very broad network. What is the strength of this network?
R. E.: The IGR's interdisciplinary approach means that the concentrated expertise and thus all current research findings relating to ergonomics flow together in our institute. Besides doctors, there are engineers, physicists, biomechanists, physiotherapists, sports instructors and practitioners from the world of work all working together and exchanging ideas with occupational safety specialists or representatives of occupational health management. All of them deal with a specific field of health and ergonomics. The dialogue, promoted by the IGR, ensures that the Institute's specialists take a holistic view of ergonomic movement processes or products and improve them.
Do you have any examples of product developments that are the result of manufacturers successfully collaborating with the IGR?
R. E.: The IGR team has been involved in projects involving reclining ergonomics, seating solutions and sleep systems. But also in the field of behavioural ergonomics, we design participatory programmes to improve occupational health and to impart practical ergonomic knowledge. We also conduct these programmes ourselves, but without neglecting the fun factor. Because we run the programme under the trademarked title of "ergotainment".
Are there any other ways in which companies can draw on the IGR's extensive knowledge of ergonomics?
R. E.: Our goal is to get the topic of healthy working across in companies and public authorities and to raise public awareness of it in the long term. To achieve this, we have drawn up the job description for "ergonomics coach for multipliers in companies". Our trainers impart a broad range of theoretical and practical knowledge that participants can, in turn, pass on to their colleagues in their companies. We offer the suppliers of ergonomic products the training course "Increased sales with ergonomic expertise", which boosts their confidence as regards ergonomic issues when talking to customers. After all, being skilled in giving customers advice is the best way to hold on to them in the long term. We offer additional training programmes in the IGR Academy, too.
Thank you for the interview, Mr Eisele.
Do you have ergonomic products in the (school) bags and backpacks or stationery categories? You can register your company along with three products until 2 August 2021 for the Special Award Ergonomics offered by Insights-X and the German institute of health and ergonomics (IGR).Register here