My Story: Cathy Sitek | 2022-02-20

“There is no crying in tool and death.” It was the mantra I used to distract my brain from the musculoskeletal pain I felt while working on my feet. Ultimately, this pain was the reason I became an ergonomist.

My family is no stranger to this kind of pain. I’m a third-generation toolmaker, machine operator, and inventor — on both sides of my family tree — and we’ve all experienced the same musculoskeletal pain while standing at workstations.

During my 35-year career as a master toolmaker, and unbeknownst to me, I was already a practicing ergonomist in my tool shop. Making every workstation as painless as possible for me and my employees was a #1 priority. We raised tables, set gauges to eye level, and had my optometrist make prescription safety glasses to help reduce flex. We even made parquet to elevate the user to the correct height so their arms aren’t overstretched by the repetitive motion in the down stroke of the handles, especially on the manual surface grinder. These small adjustments have made all the difference in better posture and conservation of human energy. I thought everything was under control, but it wasn’t. The pain kept getting worse the harder we worked because we always had a problem with standing static for hours at a time.

My pain finally stopped me dead at the age of 50. I couldn’t work anymore, bending down was impossible, and I even started putting handrails in our house to support me. The only option to survive working in the store was to find a solution. If I couldn’t, I would have to close the store and retire.

So I set to work researching the human body as if it were the most important machine in the workshop that was breaking down. With my neurodiverse visual thinking brain, problem solving has become easy. I was able to research evolution (the blueprints of the human body) from the beginning; how and why the body responds to gravity, proper body mechanics and postural sway; and what causes the hips and knees of the body to lock during the static position. I just started researching and connecting the dots with the only help I had: my own pain as a gauge.

Eventually all efforts to find a solution worked and I was able to remove the handrails from my house – I was no longer at risk of falling. That’s when I got addicted to ergonomics, and all I wanted to do was help others get healthy. So, in 2020, I became a certified ergonomist. Now, when I use machine shops, it’s not about fixing the tools or the grinders. It’s about fixing a company’s most valuable asset: the human machine.

Cathy Sitek
Chesterfield, Mich.