Office Ergonomics: A Simple Introduction

Ergonomics is a hot word within business, and for good reason. Work related musculoskeletal disorders, either episodic or chronic has accounted for 41% of all UK work related illnesses between 2015 and 2016, a total of over 8 million days lost in total according to a recent survey.

WRMD’s cover a lot of different issues caused by repeated movements, continued force on certain parts of the body, working without rest, sitting or standing in one position for extended periods of time, as well as taking the workplace environment into consideration With this in mind it isn’t hard to see why or how these disorders cost businesses a lot of money, every single year. Luckily, ergonomics is something that most businesses are now aware of and many companies are implementing changes to try and improve office ergonomics, reducing the likelihood of WRMD within their organisation.  If you are currently looking at improving your workplace ergonomics, this easy introduction will help you get started:

Workstation

The workstation is the area in which an employee is most likely to sustain injury, therefore it should be an important focus of an ergonomics check and it’s vital to check these key areas:-

The Chair

The chair supports the spine and should be adjusted so that the seated person’s feet are flat to the floor and the thighs are parallel to the floor. Armrests should support arms, not cause them to be tense and held in a position that causes shoulder tension.

Equipment

Equipment includes items such as the phone, printer, or any equipment that is used on the desk. They should be placed for ease of use whilst sitting, or if anything requires strain, the person should stand and move to the object to use it.

The Computer Keyboard & Mouse

The mouse should sit next to the keyboard and wrists should be supported on a support mat if necessary to make using the keyboard easier.

The Phone

The phone should not be held on the shoulder if the person commonly types whilst on the phone. A headset should be offered in this instance.

The Monitor

The most common cause of issues, the monitor needs to be around arms length away from the person, and the screen needs to be at eye level which may mean placing it on a block to make it higher.

Environment

The office environment is a much more difficult space in which to create ergonomic balance, because there are so many different changing factors to consider. However, there are lots of ways to at least try and achieve a safe and ergonomic work environment for workers, even if these attempts can be constantly improved.

Lighting

Poor lighting can cause many issues within a workplace including; flickering, glare, a lack of lighting, badly distributed light and a lack of sufficient contrast.

Poor lighting issues like these can cause problems in the workplace, affecting the work produced, reducing the safety of the environment and causing a health hazard for staff.

Correcting bad lighting is a lengthy process, but it is so important in terms of office ergonomics. Managers can take care to:

  • Ensure bulbs are always replaced
  • Ensure light fixtures are always clean and working well
  • Ensure there is adequate lighting throughout the working space, and adjustable lighting where necessary
  • Ensure the surfaces are reflective of light
  • Ensuring work stations are lit in a way that does not produce glare for the worker
  • Ensuring enough natural light can fill the space, and ensuring blinds or similar products are used to avoid the natural light producing glare
  • Ensuring correct DSE regulations are adhered to

These are just some small suggestions, but in many cases it is recommended a professional is consulted to assess specific needs. Usually a lighting survey will be used, checking luminance, contrast and reflectance to assess the ergonomic lighting needs of the space.

Air Quality

Indoor air quality is a safety concern and should be considered amongst the overall ergonomic needs of the work environment. Indoor air quality can be affected by the amount of people in the space at any one time, issues with heating or ventilation, issues with air contamination from chemicals and vapours.

Common air contaminants include but are not limited to:

  • CO2
  • Dust
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Vapours
  • Gas
  • Body odour.

The problem with these contaminants is that they can cause mild irritation or issues like dryness and irritation of eyes, skin and mouth, but also more serious issues like headaches, lung problems and more intense rashes and reactions. Commonly air quality is only investigated once issues are reported by workers, however organisations do well to monitor air quality regularly regardless of reported issues. As with lighting, a survey is usually necessary as well as consulting a professional for advice on improving air quality. Many workplaces will implement strategies like improving ventilation and air flow which can commonly be achieved with a good air conditioning system. You can view 2016’s best air conditioning systems in this useful overview from Groom and Style.

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution in the workplace can be just as damaging as any other ergonomic issue. Loud noises and continued exposure to certain types of noise is known:

  • Stress us out
  • Make us more unproductive
  • Make us feel disrupted
  • Cost workplaces money from sick days caused by noise related health issues
  • Make us less able to multi-task
  • Make us tired
  • Make us more likely to slouch
  • Affect our motivation
  • Damage our hearing

As with most of the issues discussed in this article, organisations are encouraged to seek professional help in surveying their noise pollution issues. Solutions to the problems may be complex, but necessary.

Keeping In Line With The Law

Office ergonomics is of course important in terms of saving workers from unnecessary health issues, and saving organisations the billions of pounds sick days caused by work related injuries or strains cost. However, there are also many laws that fall in line with these issues that have to be followed and should be the primary concern of the organisation. The following articles provide guidance as to workplace ergonomics and health and safety laws and guidelines:

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