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Prize winning Cornell researcher shows ergonomics aren't just for chairs and keyboards -- would you believe forklifts?

Most of the work of Cornell ergonomist Alan Hedge focuses on applying ergonomic design criteria to make workplaces more productive, such as redesigning computer stations, keyboards and mice, chairs and lighting. But trucks are a work environment, too. About 15 years ago, Hedge, a professor of design and environmental analysis and director of Cornell's Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, both in the New York State College of Human Ecology at Cornell, worked with industrial designers and a forklift truck company to redesign new vehicles.

He used what was then a novel "inside-out" human-centered approach, so that the new trucks were designed around the operator's needs, with special attention paid to maximize comfort, minimize the risk of accidents and maximize productivity. Hedge developed a strategy that systematically incorporated ergonomics information at every stage of the design process for forklifts, and that substantially influenced future designs. For that work, which has resulted in a new generation of ergonomically designed lift trucks that are now in worldwide operation, he will receive the Alexander J. Williams Jr. Design Award from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society for "outstanding human factors contributions to the design of a major operational system" at the society's annual meeting, Oct. 13-17, in Denver.

Hedge's ergonomics strategy to assist designers included:

  • conducting detailed photographic analysis of problematic ergonomic design features in forklifts;
  • analyzing the economic impact of any new desired functions and capabilities;
  • using focus groups with truck operators to evaluate truck models from other manufacturers and design prototypes for new vehicles;
  • videotaping actual truck operations and analyzing postural risks, inefficient task sequences and other ergonomic problems; o determining design requirements by reviewing articles and reports on truck safety;
  • developing an "ergonomic audit" worksheet;
  • determining the necessary information for designing vehicles to accommodate a wide range of operators, in terms of body size and strength and ease-of-use; and
  • paying careful attention to the ergonomic design of controls, displays and compartments.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society has 21 technical groups, 69 local and student chapters and an international membership of more than 5,200, most of whom are in the United States, Canada and Europe. Its mission is to promote the discovery and exchange of knowledge concerning the characteristics of human beings that are applicable to the design of systems and devices of all kinds.

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