What are workplace ergonomics? In basic terms, ergonomics is the study of design. In this instance, it is the study of designing items for workers that keep their limitations and their capabilities in mind. When products are not designed to limit weaknesses and enhance strengths, worker fatigue can set in almost immediately. That results in workers that are tired, angry, and could even lead to an injury.
The most productive workers tend to benefit from workplace ergonomics the most. When it is done right, workers are happy, employers see higher levels of productivity, and the quality of work produced is even enhanced.
If you’re thinking about workplace ergonomics and how a small investment into them could bring you or your business some large gains, then here is everything that you need to know.
What Are the High Risk Factors of Bad Ergonomics?
Any time a worker is forced to perform work that is outside of their normal capabilities, they are performing work that has bad ergonomics of some form. We all start at a peak level of efficiency every day and as our energy gets expelled, we feel a little tired. That tiredness curve is enhanced when bad ergonomics are in play, eventually leading to muscle pain, injury, and a total lack of activity.
There are some high risk factors in the office environment that may be the foundation of bad ergonomics. Have you seen anyone suffering from these issues – including yourself?
- Repetitive tasks. Work is certainly repetitive by nature, but some work requires the same motions and posture all day, every day. If the cycle time of a job is less than 30 seconds, then a worker is at risk of suffering from bad ergonomics. This includes people who type.
- Repetitive force. Heavy lifting isn’t always a bad thing. It is, however, if muscle effort is required constantly throughout the day without any recovery periods.
- Repetitive awkward posture. Just the way a worker sits at their desk can lead to an injury from bad ergonomics. A keyboard that isn’t properly positioned, a chair that is too low, or even a desk that is too high can all create injuries.
Every time a worker is placed in conditions where they may get injured because of bad ergonomics, their risks to themselves and their employer go up. That’s why knowing the basics of workplace ergonomics is so important. By supporting those who have high task repetition, are required to use muscle force consistently, or may be stuck in an awkward posture, more work can get done because there is less fatigue and therefore less risk of injury.
How Can Workplace Ergonomics Be Improved?
It all starts with recognizing where the highest potential for injury to occur will be. Sometimes workers are unconsciously not sitting in the proper posture, but sometimes their work equipment prohibits them from doing so. If a worker does not have arms on their chair, for example, then they are forced to use muscle exertion repetitively to maintain their posture. That makes them become a high-risk candidate for an ergonomics injury.
Engineering controls are the most common method of limiting injuries, fatigue, and pain. Office equipment can be designed to maintain a person’s full range of motion as they are working while reducing the level of awkwardness that is in their posture. With enough tools supporting the vulnerable wrist, hip, and elbow joints especially, optimal productivity can be better achieved.
There are also certain administrative controls that can be put into place to limit injuries or overwhelming fatigue. These are usually created after engineering efforts have been made to improve ergonomics. These actions can really help to limit joint and muscle stress.
- Changes in procedures. If workers are forced to remain in awkward positions for an extended period of time, then a new look at those procedures should take place. Workers should also be encouraged to be creative and innovate new ways of accomplishing tasks so that the awkward positions can be avoided as often as possible.
- Rotation of job tasks. Because job cycles that are repetitive in 30 seconds or less are the most problematic, simply adding different tasks to a worker’s routine can sometimes be enough to lower the risk of an injury.
- Teach stretching. Rest and stretching fatigued muscles can help to counter the damage that begins to build up from sustained motions, activities, or positional wear and tear. At minimum, a 10-15 minute break for stretching should be allowed for every 2 hours of work that is produced.
There are costs associated with an improvement of workplace ergonomics. There’s no denying this fact and the investment into ergonomics can be a large one for some businesses. Compared to the costs of litigation for injuries and lost production from fatigued employees, however, the investment into ergonomics is one that makes sense.
How Can Workplace Ergonomics Be Improved Immediately?
The first thing you should do is examine all of your office equipment. Your office chairs, keyboards, computer peripherals, and desks can all contribute to higher levels of fatigue and injury risk. Make sure that your desks are positioned at a proper height, that keyboards have enough wrist support, and that any other tool a worker may need can be accessed within close reach so leaning and straining motions are limited.
Immediately replace any broken office equipment that you find. An office chair that will not stay elevated will frustrate a worker. They’ll eventually just leave the equipment as it is instead of trying to adjust it to a better ergonomic position. This will cause them to work in conditions that could lead to an injury – and most workers don’t complain to managers because they don’t want to risk their job.
Knowing how workers are being affected by ergonomics is also important. Maybe you don’t have any workplace injuries happening, but you do have several workers who are complaining about back and neck pain. That could be the result of their posture… or it could be because you’ve purchased an office chair under $100 to save money and the cheap equipment doesn’t do a great job.
You should have the best office chairs for back pain available to your workers just so they can keep up with their high levels of productivity. You should be looking to limit injuries just so you don’t get stuck paying a worker’s comp claim. Now is the time to implement a solution.
Are You Ready To Improve Your Workplace Ergonomics?
Maybe you control the budget and can improve the ergonomics across the entire business. Maybe you’re just a worker who wants to stop coming home with neck pain every day. Here’s what you’ve got to do to make sure your plan to improve ergonomics succeeds.
#1. Make sure the ownership approves of the change. There are two ways to proceed: evolution or revolution. Most people just want to make the change and get it done, but that’s the revolution method. It doesn’t change the way people think about ergonomics. Bad posture will stay bad even in a $500 office chair. Get ownership to buy into the changes and promote them across the company.
#2. It’s a process. Don’t think of ergonomics as something that happens overnight. It is a process that must be continually improved to be beneficial. Results can be measured, so you’ll know whether productivity is getting better or not with your efforts.
#3. Know your role. Each person involved with the transition to a better ergonomic environment should have their roles fully documented so nothing falls through the cracks. One poor moment of communication can derail this investment quickly.
#4. Invest into the worker. Just giving a worker new ergonomically-friendly office equipment and telling them to get to work isn’t good enough. People need to know how to use this new equipment, practice using it, and make it part of their routine. There must be ownership in order for there to be a benefit. Train everyone in the best practices of each item and what posture is required and eventually the total risk for ergonomic injuries for the office will be reduced.
#5. Be proactive. It’s easy to fall back into bad habits. Even with better equipment and supportive tools, workers can begin to slouch. They might prefer using their old keyboard instead of their new one. They won’t tell anyone about switching back to the high risk items. They just do it. That’s why being proactive about this change and addressing needs before they happen is the best way to encourage change.
Workplace ergonomics can improve your productivity. A few simple steps is all it takes to create some big changes in how work gets done every day in a healthier way. Use this guide to develop your own implementation plan, use the products found on this site to support yourself or your workers, and it won’t be such a pain to go to work any more.