An environment that is safe and healthy contributes to the productivity of the workplace. I want my employees to always remember to take care of ergonomics — it’s important! In fact, businesses of all sizes and types should strive to create an ergonomically sound work environment for all their employees. After all, when ergonomic practices are poor, businesses suffer from lower productivity and, in extreme cases, physical injury.
However, every employee must ensure that their own workstations are ergonomically correct — regardless of how well the enterprise designs its workspaces. There is no point in buying the most expensive chairs, desks, and equipment if an employee does not sit upright and slump awkwardly at their desk.
It just so happens that October is National Ergonomics Month, so let’s discuss ways to make your workplace healthy, productive, and ergonomic.
History of Ergonomics Month
Ergonomics dates back as far as ancient Greece. Specifically, Hippocrates, regarded as the “Father of Medicine,” described in detail how a surgeon’s workstation and tools should be laid out. However, it wasn’t until 1857 that Professor Wojciech Jastrzebowski in Poland used “ergonomics” as a specific word for the first time. At the first meeting of the Ergonomics Society in 1949, British psychologist Hywell Murrell officially coined the term “ergonomics.”
Fast forward all the way to 2003. That was the year the Human Factors, and Ergonomics Society proclaimed October to be National Ergonomics Month. Through grassroots, community-based activities at colleges and universities, high schools, and corporations, information and services are being provided on human factors and ergonomics. In addition to teaching, networking, and providing resources to clients and the general public, safety professionals and ergonomists can promote the science, applications, and profession in many ways.
Importance of Ergonomics
The importance of ergonomics in health cannot be overstated. When a body works in an ergonomically unfriendly way, awkward postures, extreme temperatures, or repetitive movements cause stress. As a result, discomfort, fatigue, and pain may develop, and over time, they may lead to musculoskeletal disorders.
Furthermore, happier and healthier employees are more productive as their morale increases. As an added benefit, this can retain employees as well. The lower turnover also reduces the need to recruit and train replacements, which saves resources that would be wasted otherwise.
Several methods are used in ergonomics to counter these problems. As an example, by adjusting the surface height, less bending is required. Also, in order to reduce neck strain, users should replace their telephone handsets with headsets. And, if a computer workstation is set up properly, long periods of sitting in an uncomfortable position, such as typing with bent wrists, will not cause muscle strain.
There are more methods of implementing ergonomics than there is space to list them. But they all attempt to prevent strain on the person doing work, so the body works at maximum efficiency, using its full potential for longer.
How to Improve Workplace Ergonomics
1. Maintain a good posture while working.
No matter where employees work, a good working posture at their workstations is the number one ergonomic priority. In order to perform their tasks, they should maintain a neutral body position with a relaxed posture and not be required to reach excessively or at stressful angles.
Ideally, office workers should sit with straight, parallel, and inline hands, wrists, and forearms. As a general rule, the head should be level, facing forward without turning left or right.
If employees stand straight at their workstations and their arms and wrists remain neutral, standing may also be ergonomically sound. In fact, when you sit for a long time, standing is a good counterbalance.
2. Shake it up.
It is possible to experience strains if you repeat the same movement continuously throughout the day. The recommendation, then, is to alternate tasks whenever possible. It is advised to incorporate several rest breaks into the shift if job rotation or alternating tasks during the shift is not possible.
During breaks, stretch or do simple exercises to prevent muscle tenseness and strain.
3. Improve your computer workstation.
“Another critical consideration is your workspace’s ergonomics–how efficiently and safely you can work at your desk and with your computer,” writes Melanie Pinola over at Zapier. “It’s about setting up your environment to keep you healthy and avoid problems such as repetitive strain injury (RSI), back pain, or even fatigue.”
It is possible to achieve this by ensuring that your desk is at the right height. “Your desk should ideally let you type on a keyboard with your arms and hands roughly parallel to the floor. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your legs should fit comfortably under the desk when sitting. You’ll want to be able to comfortably cross your legs under the surface,” writes Pinola.
Or, you could visit Ergotron’s Workspace Planner. Once you enter your height, it will determine the best measurements for your desk.
Aside from adjusting your desk height, you should also consider:
- Keep “your monitor or laptop screen between 20 and 40 inches in front of you.” Pinola also recommends that “the top line of the screen is at or below your eye level.”
- Use a keyboard and mouse that are “close enough to your body so you can hold your elbows comfortably by your sides, preventing strain on your shoulders.” For added comfort, try using a keyboard stand or tray.
4. Choose the right equipment.
After assessing either you or your employees’ needs — introduce and provide suitable safety equipment that promotes safe postures, facilitates lifting heavy items and prevents common musculoskeletal injuries.
A few examples include, but are not limited to:
- Those who stand for long periods of time should use cushioned floor mats
- Chairs designed with ergonomics in mind
- For moving heavy or cumbersome items, carts or machinery are available
- Items that reduce pressure when kneeling, such as knee pads
5. Always lift with your knees.
If your job involves lifting, ensure you have proper lifting techniques and are trained in manual material handling. Lifting with your back muscles is never a good idea. Instead, you should lift with your knees.
6. Give your eyes a break.
Eye fatigue can be noticeable after looking at a computer display for a long period of time. In order to reduce strain on the eyes, workers should look at something more than 20 feet away every 10 to 20 minutes.
Anything will do, from the clock on the wall to the tree outside the window. By switching to a distant object, the eyes will adjust, and the muscles in the close-up focus will relax.
It is common for people to tense their muscles for long periods of time when they are in a stressful work environment. For those with pressure to complete tasks faster, they may skip breaks or strain themselves to use proper ergonomic material handling techniques in order to complete tasks on time.
If you’re a leader, make sure your workers aren’t overstressed. It is important to provide individuals with information, training, and control over how their workstation is configured ergonomically to reduce the amount of stress caused by ergonomic injuries.
If you’re not in a leadership position, find ways to destress. For example, these 18 exercises that you can do at your desk.
8. Adjust your remote workspace.
“Many of us are working remotely and may not have access to a lot of office equipment,” says Cindy Zielinski, MS, OTRL, occupational therapy supervisor and lead for the MHealthy Ergonomics Awareness Program. “But there are so many things in our homes that can help us make adjustments to our workspace:”
- When your armrests are too wide, add a pillow or blanket to your armrests to add a cushion or improve back support.
- Using rolled-up towels can provide lower back support.
- A box, book, or storage tote can be used as a footrest or as a monitor or laptop stand.
- Standing or sitting is possible with an ironing board that is adjustable to your ideal height.
- In the event that your laptop screen is too small, you’ll need a TV or external monitor.
“And no matter where you’re working, always remember to keep moving,” adds Zielinski. “Try to get in some type of movement (standing, stretching, taking a 2–3-minute walk, etc.) every 30 – 60 minutes. Setting an alarm or timer is a good way to remind yourself.”
Remind yourself that you’re more productive if you take care of yourself and your ergonomic needs first.
Image Credit: Standsome Worklifestyle; Pexels; Thank you!