PT Classroom - Ergonomics - Worker Behavior Not Just Products ׀ by Ronald W. Porter, PT, CEAS III


Ronald W. Porter is a nationally recognized expert in the field of Occupational Safety and Health, and Ergonomics. In the past 30 years, since becoming Director of the Back School, he has instructed over 1000 workshops and seminars on Ergonomics Awareness and Musculoskeletal Disorder Prevention to physical and occupational therapists; medical doctors; chiropractors; occupational health nurses; and industrial health and safety professionals.

Ron has worked with over 200 industries, including Lockheed Martin Aeronautics; US Foods; Mars Incorporated; E.I. Du Pont; DS Waters; Shell Oil; International Paper; Cingular Wireless and the United States Navy; consulting on the development and implementation of innovative ergonomics programs for both individual plant sites and entire corporations.

He was chosen as the 2012 ASSE Ergonomics Practice Specialty Safety Professional of the Year and is often a featured presenter at regional and national safety and health association conferences.

His recent presentations include:
The 2007 - 2013 American Society of Safety Engineers Professional Development Conferences • The 1995 – 2005 and 2011 American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Annual Conferences • The 2010 National Ergonomics Conference and Exposition • SEAK Annual National Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Medicine Conferences in 2005 – 2007 and 2013 and a March 2010 national webinar on the Aging Workforce for the ASSE Virtual Classroom.

His Bachelor of Science degree is from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and his Graduate Degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University in Atlanta, GA. He is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association, American Society of Safety Engineers, the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.


Ergonomics - Worker Behavior Not Just Products

Ergonomics is defined as the match between the person, the equipment they use, the work processes and the work environment. Ergonomics principles are used to improve the “fit” between the worker and the work place. A person’s capabilities, physical attributes and work habits must be recognized to improve ergonomics factors in the workplace. It is the blending of the work place to the worker not the other way around.

As far back as March 1990, Nation’s Business magazine recognized that people, not workplace conditions, create most workplace injuries. In their article “Fighting the High Cost of Workers’ Comp” it reviewed the book “How to Control Your Work Comp Insurance Costs” by Robert J. Will. In it he identified that 80% of injury risk was the result of worker behavior and only 20% was the result of work place design. He also recommended keeping employees happy as a way to decrease work related injuries. Workers with bad attitudes toward their company and its safety rules are more likely to get hurt than those that are satisfied.

In the 1980’s Stanley Bigos, MD evaluated 31,200 Boeing Company workers and identified that job dissatisfaction along with a previous history of musculoskeletal disorders were the two most significant predictive factors for employees reporting work related back injuries.

A 2013 Gallup Poll found that 70% 0f US workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. This results in a $550 billion loss in productivity.

Various programs such as Power Zone and Workplace Athlete programs focus on improving employee behaviors while motivating them with a positive view of themselves and their employer.

In the Power Zone program instruction is given on the use of proper body mechanics for job specific activities. Most favorable postures for activity and decreasing forces on joints are when you can maintain the elbows at a 90 degree angle (L shaped position of the arm). You are in your primary Power Zone. The area up to the shoulders and down to the knees (often called the Strike Zone in baseball) is acceptable. The more time you can work in your Power Zone the less stress and fatigue on your body.


Our bodies are also designed to move. So changing postures frequently and using different ways to do the same activities, helps to promote blood flow, keeps your body healthy and mind alert. The BEST posture is your NEXT posture.

The duration for athletic activities is most often a few hours or less. Work activities are 8-12 hours or more. In the Workplace Athlete program, the postures and motions involved in the job tasks are evaluated in order to design a specific warm-up program to prepare the body for the rigors of work activities. This is an ERGO Break. Micro breaks with specific motions are one of the solutions for workplace injuries.

Ergonomics interventions are often thought of as a product such as a new chair, a hand truck for moving boxes or redesign of a conveyor belt. All may reduce the ergonomics risks for the individual but achieving motivation and behavioral modification are critical elements, as well. Awareness training and coaching on the opportunities for improvement like Power Zone and Workplace Athlete programs are keys to the best possible results. Ergonomics is not just a product it is worker behavior!

Last revised: February 16, 2013
by Ronald Porter, PT, CEAS III

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