It is important for every business to provide a safe, healthy, and comfortable work environment to boost employee productivity and engagement. One component of this process is conducting workplace ergonomic assessments which help businesses design the work environment for optimal employee use.
An ergonomic assessment is carried out by a physical therapist or another specialist to evaluate the workplace and its furnishings. The goal is to identify ergonomic risk factors, substantiate them, and make suitable upgrades to the work environment.
Applying ergonomic assessments in the workplace uses an evidence-based approach to ensure that jobs and tasks are within a worker’s capabilities and limitations. This can include identifying repetitive motion tasks which can cause strains, improper work area setup, and improper use of tools.
In fact, workplace ergonomics looks at both the immediate physical environment of the office and the greater work environment.:
- The immediate environment refers to the tools or equipment an employee uses on a daily basis.
- The greater work environment is the overall structure of the workplace.
In totality, both these aspects of an ergonomic assessment will look at all the forms of the employees’ seating arrangements along with how often they stand, their posture, and use of equipment. This applies to using computers, keyboards, and other such machinery in the office.
Why are ergonomic assessments important?
Safe Work Australia reports that work-related injury and disease costs come to more than 60 billion annually for the Australian economy. The majority of the cost is borne by individuals and the community.
Among these, lower back pain is the most common work-related disability worldwide. This type of injury can affect workers in all types of employments including those sitting in office and building sites to others who have to operate heavy machinery. Having bad ergonomics in the workplace can lead to a number of short and long-term health consequences.
For instance, short term disabilities can include neck and back pain, shoulder and arm pain, headaches, and repetitive strain injury. In the long term, these and other cofactors can lead to the development of conditions like carpal tunnel, tendonitis, diabetes, obesity, postural muscle aches and pains as well as various musculoskeletal disorders. These types of injuries occur when workers repeat the same motions over and over again particularly when maintaining an awkward or improper posture.
With the right ergonomics in place, much of this can be reduced and the associated employee absenteeism lowered as well.
Benefits of ergonomic assessments in the workplace
Office workers spend about eight hours per day seated at their desk. If that desk isn’t designed ergonomically, then there is a significant chance of developing chronic injury such as neck or back pain or some kind of joint pain. This goes without mentioning the potential negative health effects of remaining stationary for a long period of time throughout the day.
The most common ergonomic hazards in the office include inefficient device placement, lack of movement, and poorly configured or worn-out chairs. But apart from the obvious benefit of wrestling work-related injuries, implementing workstation ergonomics offers a number of other benefits as well.
When people are uncomfortable or in pain, they aren’t productive. There is also a greater chance that they will take sick or injury leave. Correct office ergonomics will increase productivity in the following ways :
- Generates higher performance capacity
Workers suffering from painful conditions often experience trouble concentrating. Such employees report feeling tired and drained early on in the workday and take frequent breaks.
But workplaces that incorporate ergonomics in their work settings, have workers with improved energy levels and present better mental acuity without painful bodily distractions. This results in more effective and productive work.
- Reduces workplace errors
Whether an employee is working on a computer, standing at a counter, or handling parts on an assembly line, workers who use ergonomic equipment commit fewer errors.
Working in a comfortable position ensures that employees can concentrate better at what they’re doing. For instance, with a relaxed mindset and posture, those doing calculations, taking measurements and other such activities will be able to focus better on the tasks at hand.
- Lowers stress
When increased performance and error reduction occur, lowered stress levels follow suit. With employees feeling more relaxed at work, both physically and mentally, it naturally has an effect on their stress levels.
Of course, other aspects like excessive workloads, tight deadlines, and mundane work do factor in the workplace-stress equation. But that doesn’t mean that factors like repetition and vibration, and awkward postures don’t stress workers out.
Businesses that realize that stress, regardless of its trigger point, is a cost to the organization in terms of tardiness and absenteeism are quick to implement ergonomics in the workplace.
Promotes better posture
Right after increased productivity comes a relaxed posture. This itself has huge benefits for improving the body’s cardiovascular system, and by extension, the body’s overall health.
Workers that transition to ergonomically-designed furniture first notice a relaxation in their muscles. There is often a drastic change in positions with ergonomic adjustments allowing the body to ease into more natural positions. As proper alignment gets introduced to sedentary activity, it also rids the body of pains and aches that were once distractions to the workflow.
For instance, when sit-stand desks are used, they prevent cramps emanating from prolonged static sitting positions and offers the benefit of energizing workers after switching from seated to standing positions. In fact, with the introduction of a sit-stand desk to the workstation, workers can lower their risk of back pain and increase their energy levels.
Accommodates different abilities
People come in all shapes and sizes with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities. Implementing office ergonomics will account for accommodating differently-abled workers ranging from custom workstation designs to height adjustable conference tables.
Ensures accident prevention
Workstation ergonomics will also look into accident prevention thoroughly. For instance, a common cause of workplace accidents is tripping and falling. This hazard increases potentially when there are unruly wires and cords around the office. To prevent this, specialists will advise custom storage solutions for the work area. This ensures that everything has a place and that everything stays in its place significantly reducing the chance of tripping and falling accidents.
Alongside preventing tripping hazards, ergonomic specialists can also help set safe weight and size limits for employees picking up and carrying heavy objects by hand.
Reduces employer costs
By implementing safety features in the workplace, employers can reduce the number of annual injuries. This translates into fewer workers compensation cases, lowered medical expenses, reduced call for legal services, and lessens the risk to pay for big financial settlements. Implementing effective economic programs also lowers absentee rates, improves employer satisfaction, and prevents unnecessary productivity loss.
Tips for setting up the workstation
At its most basic, workplace ergonomics in an office setting will look at things like the placement of the office workers’ fingers, wrists and arms. They will also consider the correct placement of the mouse, keyboard, and chair.
Some easy-to-start ergonomic basics include the following ideas:
A good chair provides adequate support to the back, legs, buttocks and arms.
- Sit with your hips pushed as far back as possible in the chair.
- Correct seat height to a level that allows you to place your feet flat on the floor.
- Your knees should be at the same level or marginally lower than your hips.
- If your feet do not reach the floor, use a footrest.
- Adjust your chairs back so that your upper and lower back get proper support.
- Adjust armrests so that shoulders stay relaxed.
An adjustable monitor will help you place it in the correct position to reduce eye strain, awkward positions and overhead glare.
- Centre monitor above the keyboard in front. The top of the monitor should approximately be 2 to 3 inches above eye level when seated.
- Keep the screen at an arm’s length when seated. Adjust monitor angle and distance for comfortable viewing.
- Reduce glare to avoid straining the eyes.
Keyboard and mouse
- Place keyboard directly in front of your seated position.
- Keeping shoulders relaxed, place your elbows close to the body.
- Maintain wrist straight and in line with your forearms.
- Keep the mouse close to the keyboard.
- Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended use.
- Place the telephone where you can reach it easily.
- Use a headset or speakerphone for longer conversations.
- Avoid holding the handset between your neck and shoulder.
- Anyone working extensively with paper documents should have a desk lamp.
Take frequent breaks
- Remember to stretch and take a break every 20 to 30 minutes.
- Avoid tiring your eyes by resting. Refocus eyes periodically by looking away from your computer and concentrating on something distant.
For any ergonomic initiative to be successful, it needs to be backed up by an organizational culture that values the health, wellness, and effectiveness of employees. Given the above-mentioned benefits of workplace ergonomics, the ROI that you can earn from improving ergonomics is significant. Holistic Services Group offers 4 types of ergonomic services:
- Ergonomics assessments.
- Ergonomics consultants to help plan new office spaces.
- Ergonomics training courses to teach employees the correct way to sit, as well as stretch break exercises which they can do at their workstation to alleviate the symptoms of prolonged sitting.
- Our ‘Train the Trainer’ Ergonomics Training workshop is comprehensive and premium program that will teach your staff how to conduct basic workstation assessments for your organisation.