The term "ergonomics" (from the Greek: Ergon, meaning "work", and Nomos, meaning "natural law") was first coined when Polish scientist Wojciech Jastrzębowski used the word in his 1857 article Rys ergonomji czyli nauki o pracy, opartej na prawdach poczerpniętych z Nauki Przyrody (The Outline of Ergonomics; i.e. Science of Work, Based on the Truths Taken from the Natural Science).
The Mirriam Webster Dictionary defines ergonomics as:
"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"
In other words, fitting the job (or tool) to the worker.
Greatly concerned by the number of reported work-related musculoskeletal injuries, OSHA developed an Ergonomics Standard (1994-2000). Once implemented, the formal OSHA standard met with considerable resistance, was only in effect for 90 days and was repealed by the Bush administration in 2001.
Even without the legally binding regulations (except the state of California, who has had an OSHA standard in place since 1997), the importance of employing ergonomics practices was recognized as a priority and OSHA's Ergonomics Guidelines (initially developed for the meat packing industry in 1992) set the precedent for proactive identification of risk factors and prevention of musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace.
Currently, 49 states fall under OSHA. If a written injury report is filed, a company may be cited by OSHA if they, as the employer, do not keep the workplace free from recognized hazards, including ergonomic hazards.
Since the 1990's, incorporation of ergonomics practices and ergonomic products in the workplace (and home) has become much more prevalent as a pre-emptive approach to increase productivity, morale and overall wellness.