An Empirical Study on the application of Ergonomics Approach at Public Universities of Ethiopia with Special Reference to Adigrat University.

Tewelde Gebresslase

Abstract: It is obvious that either public or private institutions might be profit or service oriented in their nature and to achieve this; employee wellbeing should be primarily concerned. One move toward is to integrate the concepts of quality ergonomics which is the main human factors, and safety into such higher academic institutions experiences for all community that make the competitive in today’s working environments of the institutions. Literally speaking Ergonomics means the study or measurement of work therefore this paper focuses on the relationship between physical and logical environment setting and institutional performance with especial reference to Adigrat University. Hence, this paper is literature and personal observation based research article on the role of ergonomics approach of workplace in case of the stated University which is one of the third generation higher academic institutions in Ethiopia., the researcher tried to put a possible suggestions based on a practical observation on what is going practically. At the end with a proper plan of ergonomics approach the tangible and intangible costs due to unhealthy working condition could be reduced since the outcome of this paper could attract the attention of the management bodies in particular and community of the institution i.e Adigrat University in general.

 Key words: Professional safety, ergonomics, employees’ motivation, productivity, Adigrat University.

  1. Introduction:

Ergonomics is the study and means to enhance the compatibility between human beings and surrounding systems. Ergonomics satisfies some of the key needs of the operators including reduction of stress and fatigue, improvement in safety, comfort level and quality of the work life. It promotes the well-being of the operator by maintaining a safe, healthy and efficiency driven environment (Viraj Bakshi, 2016). Ergonomics is defined as the design of workplace, equipment, machine, tool, product, environment and system, taking into consideration the human’s physical, physiological, psychological capabilities and optimizing the effectiveness and productivity of work system while assuring the safety, health and wellbeing of the workers.rgonomics focuses on the work environment and items such as the design and function of workstations, controls, displays, safety devices and tools to fit the employee’s physical requirements, capabilities and limitations to ensure his/her health and well being.

Ergonomics is the study and means to enhance the compatibility between human beings and surrounding systems. Ergonomics satisfies some of the key needs of the operators including reduction of stress and fatigue, improvement in safety, comfort level and quality of the work life. It promotes the well-being of the operator by maintaining a safe, healthy and efficiency driven environment (Viraj Bakshi, 2016). Ergonomics is defined as the design of workplace, equipment, machine, tool, product, environment and system, taking into consideration the human’s physical, physiological, psychological capabilities and optimizing the effectiveness and productivity of work system while assuring the safety, health and wellbeing of the workers.

According to the collection literature for ergonomics concept the following are some of the definitions. Ergonomics is the scientific study of people and their working conditions, especially done in order to improve effectiveness (Cambridge dictionary). Ergonomics is the science of refining the design of products to optimize them for human use. (…) it is sometimes known as human factors engineering ( Ergonomics is a science that deals with designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely —called also biotechnology, human engineering, human factors (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Ergonomics is a study of capacities and limitations of mental and physical work in different settings. Ergonomics applies anatomical, physiological, and psychological knowledge (call human factors) to work and work environments in order to reduce or eliminate factors that cause pain or discomfort (business dictionary).

Although the term Ergonomics has many but mutually inclusive definitions, the following definition is taken from Peter Vink (2006) as operational meaning for this paper. Hence,   Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. Having this operational definition for Ergonomics, this paper is an empirical study on human and none human factors for unhealthy working condition and tried to put possible observations on how Ergonomics Approach for workplace could help as a solution for related problems at Public Universities of Ethiopia with Special Reference in Adigrat University.

  1. Research Rationality

ince human resources are the ultimate user of the workplace environment, therefore labor should consider designing and equipping the workplace setting to suit their comfort. In this case the physical and logical design of working environments has a direct impact on the healthy workplace vis-a-vise wellbeing of the workers. As Joan Burton cited in WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific; defines a healthy workplace as follows:

 “A healthy workplace is a place where everyone works together to achieve an agreed vision for the health and well-being of workers and the surrounding community. It provides all members of the workforce with physical, psychological, social and organizational conditions that protect and promote health and safety. It enables managers and workers to increase control over their own health and to improve it, and to become more energetic, positive and contented.”

Either knowingly or unknowingly the management of one organization could follow any leadership philosophy; whatever the response of the followers. Besides to this, the management body could ignore the humanitarian aspect to maximize the organizational performance. As a result the working environment could affect negatively since the relationship between the top and lower management level could badly affect. In this regard, “It is unethical and short-sighted business practice to compromise the health of workers for the wealth of enterprises.” Evelyn Kortum, WHO (2014).

A healthy workplace can be affected through two factors which are human and non human. In this case, human factors identify what employees are being asked to do, who is doing it, and where they’re working and Non human factors identify the tangible and intangible features of the environments. According Kerm Henrikse (2010) Human factors research applies knowledge about human strengths and limitations to the design of interactive systems of people, equipment, and their environment to ensure their effectiveness, safety, and ease of use.

As Peter V. (2006) cited in Vink, (2005), participatory ergonomics is the discipline that studies how different parties should be involved in a design process. Participatory ergonomics is the adaptation of the environment to the human (that is ergonomics) together with the proper persons in question (participants). Besides, different authors also argued that “good ergonomics is good economics”. However, the concepts of ergonomics are not implemented properly. It is known that there are a number of hidden reasons why the employees who are working in Adigrat University (where the author is working) are not well satisfied in their day to day working style. Thus, it is believed to have a careful observation what is going practically and assessing to what extent the Ergonomics approach (human factors) for workplace is implementation otherwise to forward possible alternative solution for healthy, conducive and productive working environment to Adigrat University.

  1. Research Questions
  • What are the human factors for institutional performance in the university?
  • How the physical or logical working environs could influence the institutional performance of Adigrat University?
  • What are the bottlenecks against practicing ergonomic approach of workplace?
  1. Research Objective
    • General Objective

The general objective of this article is to assess the factors affecting the healthy working environs and forwarding ways of practicing ergonomics approach for workplace in Adigrat University.

  • Specific Objective
  • To determine the human factors those affect the institutional performance of the university.
  • To examine the relationship between factors of the physical/logical environment towards institutional performance.
  • To point out the major bottlenecks for practicing ergonomic approach.
  1. Institutional System Analysis

Historically, the age of modern Education in Ethiopia is almost 108 years since Emperor Menelik II opened the first modern school at Addis Ababa in 1908. Next to this, according to Alemayehu Bishaw; another important event in the expansion of modern education was the advent of the late Emperor Haile Selassie I, as Regent and Heir to the throne in 1916. He was a graduate of the first school established in Menelik II‟s palace. This foundation of higher institution also started during Emperor Haile Selassie I, with his name Haile Selassie I University (now Addis Ababa University) in 1950.

Currently, Ethiopia becomes the owner of 33 (excluding the 11 new universities to be built in second GTP period of the nation) higher academic institutions and 59 accredited Non-Government Higher Education Institutions under its Ministry of Education. Adigrat University (3rd generation) is one of the public higher academic institutions which is established in 2011.

This academic year the University has 6 colleges and one institute, 41 departments with a regular student population of more than14000 and nearly 5000 continuing education students. The total number of its academic staff has reached nearly 1000 (more than 300 of them on their further study at home and abroad). The support staff is expected to reach 1500 this academic year ( retrieved at 15/8/16).

According to Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009 no. 17/3, every public institution shall exercise its autonomy in ways that, at the same time, ensure lawfulness, efficiency and effectiveness, transparency, fairness, and accountability. Through this the MoE gives autonomous power to the university. That’s why different universities of the country could not have consistent institutional structure. Most of them are indifferent on their institutional structure, way of students evaluation, payment policy in which the MoE should follow up and adjust. The following is the current institutional hierarchy of Adigrat University.

As one can understand from the next hierarchy, the two vice presidents are over loaded. The majority divisions under Academic, Research and community Service vice president are colored yellow and it shows it should divided in to at least two units for research and academic purpose.


Figure 1 Current institutional hierarchy of Adigrat University

It is due to over responsibility and centralized management in these vice presidents that the majority employees complain more on lack of good governance in different semi annual meetings.  These same is true in the purchasing unit of the university that requested teaching materials could not deliver on time. Even if the university has more than 5000 students in continuing education, there is no responsible unit to overcome related issues. Hence, it is better to have such productive divisions instead of having the current bureaucracy such as quality assurance at college level. It is a symptom for its weakness campus assistant administrator under basic service unit; significant numbers of personal and institutional properties were stolen by thefts.

It is also due to lack of having a close linkage with the external community that domestic and foreign staff are suffering badly by home thefts in the town. When we see about the management system, individuals are treated as they are member of local political party rather than their merit. It is an example for that; not only for Adigrat University but also for almost higher institutions, the presidents and vice presidents are assigned from the local society rather than from any ethnic group. Not only this, directors, deans and head of center institutes of the university are assigned as they are member of local political organizations rather than through merit. This is against to article 9.2/a, of the legislation on the requirements to hold a position in the University which states as follows.

The candidate must have excellent communication and interpersonal skill and proven ability to participate successfully in a complex, highly professional organization, with demonstrated competence in leadership, motivation, collaboration and working with teams, teaching, research and community service activities relevant to the position;

Although fast physical expansion is one of the positive sides of the University, the internal environment is not well equipped rather lack of staff cafeteria and discount students hotel and entertainment service, shortage of pure water, too late of staff’s condominium.

  1. Research Methodology

It is obvious any research paper has its own methodology; this paper is also casual and descriptive by nature and it is literature and observation based. The researcher develops conceptual framework which assumed relevant to ergonomic approach. Then, after the theoretical or literal concepts are analyzed, the authors tried to see to what extent they are practicing in Adigrat University. Since the author is a permanent academic staff of the university, it is good opportunity to identify every aspects of the human factor and lastly the paper will have its own significant in enhancing institutional performance through overcoming the de-motivational factors of employees.

  1. The Theory Versus the Practice

As far as their appropriateness Hierarchy of Needs theory (Abraham Maslow) and Alderfer’s ERG theory of motivation are taken as a conceptual framework.   In this case the researcher tried to assess either these theories are practicing in Adigrat University or not; because, it is believed that these theories involves human factors relationship (ergonomics) and otherwise, these factors can related to the physical design (internal and external environmental features) and logical design (policies, working system and management philosophy…) of the institution. As to these theories the employee demands the following needs from their home and from their working institutions.

According to Maslow, we seek first to satisfy the lowest level of needs. Once this is done, we seek to satisfy each higher level of need until we have satisfied all five needs. Thus, related factors are arranged as a concept and their necessity in this case institution.

Need Home Job In Adigrat University
Physiological food water shelter and cloth Heat, air, base salary Cafeteria service or center of entertainments (for staff and students), discount business, attractive dormitory and office, on time payments and fringe benefits, pure water
Safety freedom from war, poison, violence work safety, job security, health insurance Internal (Teaching material, transport service, pleasant physical infrastructure, campus community safety), external (free fear of war, peace and stability, home) free of theft or creating risk free compound.
Belongingness family, friends, clubs teams, departments, colleague, clients, supervisors, subordinates Participative decision, decentralized management philosophy, two way communication, meritocracy of positions, feeling of ownership
Esteem approval of family, friends, community recognition, high status, responsibilities Encouragements, recognitions and moral, letting competent for higher management, confidentiality, achievement, reduce employees turnover
self-actualization education, religion, hobbies, personal growth education, religion, hobbies, personal growth Short bureaucracy of promotion, workers educational opportunity, encouraging for innovation and creativity, investigation and freedom

Table 1: Hierarchy of Needs Theory (yellow column) and author’s view (green column)

As to the human expectation, either in group or individually, it is assumed that every employee of Adigrat University needs to acquire and to satisfy these needs. According to the connotations of the hierarchy of needs theory, individual employees must have their lower level needs met by, for instance, safe working conditions, adequate pay to take care of one’s self and one’s family, and job security before they will be motivated by increased job responsibilities, status, and challenging work assignments. Despite the simplicity of application of this theory to Adigrat University, the human factors as to the ergonomics approach is not practicing.

ERG theory, developed by Clayton Alderfer, is a modification of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Alderfer’s theory also categorized work force needs into three categories and the related factors to these categories are summarized as follows. As one can observe from the table 1 and table 2, these theories are powerful to maximize the performance of the institution if well practiced. As to the factors for employee’s motivation, the factors could affect the institutional performance positively; because, institutional performance is the sum of departmental or individual performance.

Needs Implication To Motivating the employees


To enhance institutional performance
Existence needs Include all material and physiological desires Ø  Pay one time (load and overtime)

Ø  Avoiding bad noise and sounds

Ø  Minimize meetings

Ø  Prioritize institutional goals

Ø  Keeping clean area

Ø  Keeping quality and clean buildings and classrooms

Ø  Prioritize institutional before political goals

Relatedness needs Encompass social and external esteem; relationships with significant others v  Trust and Delegate both power and authority

v  Giving recognition and respect

v  Two way communication

v  Activity review day and celebrate success

v  Avoiding destructive informal groups

Ø  Avoid political agendas

v  Create transparency

v  Creating external relation (within outside the country)

v  Creating and encouraging social friendship among employees

v  Care about safety

·         Growth needs


Internal esteem and self actualization; these impel a person to make creative or productive effects on himself and the environment ü  Give motivational challenges

ü  Encouraging human needs

ü  Keep employees, students and stockholders well informed

ü  Know what motivates the employees

ü  Letting trained and educated/career development

ü  Avoid unproductive follow up for academic staff

ü  Encourage creativity and innovation

ü  Avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy of promotion

ü  Apply decentralized management philosophy

ü   Promote meritocracy

ü  Promote computation

Table 2: Alderfer’s theory of needs and author’s view (green column)

Literally speaking motivation is one of the forces that lead to performance. Motivation is defined as the desire to achieve a goal or a certain performance level, leading to goal-directed behavior. As the human factor affect the institutional performance, environmental factors such as having the resources, information, and support one needs to perform well are critical to determine the performance the University.

According to human resource approach for motivation people want to contribute to organizational effectiveness and are able to make genuine contributions. The organization’s responsibility is to create a work environment that makes full use of available human resources. ERG theory’s implications for managers are similar to those for the needs hierarchy; top level management of the university should focus on meeting employees’ existence, relatedness, and growth needs, though without necessarily applying the condition that, say, job-safety concerns necessarily take precedence over challenging and fulfilling job requirements. Is so, the ergonomics or human factor of the institution become realized. And it directly implies the  performance could enhance since the workplace (internal and external) become healthy and safe.

  1. Summery Suggestions

Like any changes (BPR, TQM, BSC and Kaizen) which have being implementing through time in the University, Ergonomics could also practiced. Relatively ergonomics approach for workplace highly focuses on human factor of employees. It is rational implication that if human factor of the institution got primary attention, the employees’ motivation, individual performance and then institutional performance could be maximized in Adigrt University. For this, the two theories of motivation with their respective factors are a good example which needs especial emphasize at any institutional level. For easily applicable it is summarized as follows.

Hierarchy of Needs Theory ERG theory Human Factors

(Direct impact)

Institutional Factors

(Indirect impact)

Ladder for



Physiological Existence needs Ignoring humanitarian aspects Bad physical and logical design Audit Human and Institutional needs (Team work): move from individual to the overall institutional system
Safety Healthy workplace Weak security

Inside & out side

Verify logical and physical human and institutional needs’ gap (Team work)
Belongingness Relatedness needs Push factors: Bad relations Deficiency of Pool factors Re-structuring and  system Validation  (Team work)
Esteem Internal Weakness of formal groups Centralized Decision making Externalize and communication (Bottom-up) (Team work)
External Growth needs Less external competition Internal &External Competitiveness Action Realization through human development (Team work)
Self-actualization Narrow minded: focusing on minor things… Have Practical  and long lasting Vision Empowerment of the long lasting Human and institutional Achievement

Table 3: comparative of the theory and the practice in Adigrat University

The goals of ergonomics are to provide a positive working environment in which the design of equipment, work layouts and work environment matches the capabilities of people so they can lead healthy and productive lives. Thus, this indicates the application of Ergonomics starts from individual, departments then in to the institution.

According to the literal analysis and practical observation, the researcher believes to develop an alternative institutions hierarchy that could be pleasant to practice ergonomic concept in workplace of the institution. Hence, through its autonomous power from MoE, these which are ranked as too broad working units should divide or restructure in to sub-systems. In general the author needs to forward the following suggestions accordingly.

  • Presidents and vice presidents of the university should assigned merit based from all over the nation and the world since it is a national institution. Because, due to lack of diversity in ethnicity in the higher positions, meritocracy is not practicing.
  • It is recommended that the management philosophy of the university should participatory and decentralized. Tasks should fairly distribute among the institutional divisions.
  • Campus community especially students needs orientation to keep classrooms clean.
  • Supportive office materials like photo copy, papers, desks and chairs should nearly available.
  • Discounted business firms like separate cafeterias for staffs, commodity shops, and pure water and clean dormitory are mandatory for students. To do this intake capacity of the university should as to its resources.
  • Since the institution is across the border, the federal government should care and as much as possible unnecessary sounds from training of the fighters should out of the campus community.
  • The human factors should consider as institutional factors because the institution living which could grow, die like human as the employees feel discomfort.
  • The internal and external threat of theft could avoid by practicing article 7.2.9/a/ viii, of the legislation which stated “Establish contacts with external bodies (city administration, city police, nearby administration, security, and other relevant offices) that help maintenance of peaceful teaching in the campus.”
  • It is better for the employees and the institution if Ergonomics Approach of workplace could executed in collaboration with other changes or independently.

Finally, after the above suggestions are taking in to consideration it is easy to practice Ergonomics approach then after the University become benefited in reducing its tangible and intangible costs, it could easily improves its performance, quality, employees participation and creates better safety culture and healthy workplace.


Adigrat University Senate Legislation (2004 E.C) Adigrat, Ethiopia.

Alemayehu Bishaw Education in Ethiopia: Past, Present and Future Prospects: African Nebula, Issue 5, 2012 available at

Alderfer, C., & Guzzo, R. (1979, September). Life experiences and adults’ enduring strength of desires in organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24(3), 347- 361. Retrieved from

Alderfer, Clayton P. (1972) Existence, Relatedness, and Growth: Human Needs in Organizational Settings. New York: Free Press; Available at:

Dickson, V., Fox C., Marshall K., Welch N., & Willis, J.(2014).”What really improves employee health and wellbeing”, International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 7.

Kerm Henrikse (…) Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses: available at

Habtemariam Markos (1970)., Amharic as the medium of instruction in primary schools in Ethiopia.‟‟ In T.P. Gorman, (ed.), Language in Education in Eastern Africa. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.

Maslow, Abraham H. (1954) Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row;
Available at:

Nour Eldin M. (2014) Role of Ergonomics on Sudanese higher education Institutions ICT class Rooms e-material available at

Viraj Bakshi (2016) Study to Implement Lean and Ergonomics Concepts in a Production Environment

Joan Burton (2010) WHO Healthy Workplace Framework and Model: Background Document and Supporting Literature and Practices. E-book available at

P.Vink, (2006) Positive outcomes of participatory ergonomics in terms of higher comfort and productivity

Additional visited websites official website of Adigrat University visited at 10/08/16 visited at 12/08/16 visited at 01/08/16



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