Is your workplace a safe, comfortable and productive area or a pain in the neck? Do you often experience back and neck pain, burning eyes and sore wrists? Exposure to adverse working conditions may be the cause of the aforementioned health problems but, fortunately, there is a solution − and it is called ergonomics.
Ergonomics is the science that “fits” people to their work by taking into account their capabilities and limitations and by making sure that their tasks, equipment and the environment in which they work suit each worker. Ergonomic solutions to workplace problems can improve job satisfaction and productivity and enhance employee health and safety. Preventing job-related injuries is therefore one of the main aims of ergonomics.
Common job-related injuries and disorders
Unfavourable working conditions may cause the following injuries and disorders:
- CTDs (cumulativetrauma disorders), a set of muscle, tendon and nerve disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and related hand and wrist disorders caused by prolonged contact stresses, eg typing or using a mouse
- Elbow, shoulder, neck and back disorders caused by tasks involving frequent, repetitive lifting, hoisting, pushing or carrying heavy loads as well as awkward postures such as bending or twisting the body to reach or lift something
- Eye strain and headaches often caused by the glare from a computer screen or overhead lights
- Psychological stresses if the workload is too high or too low, tasks are unclear and training inadequate or if time pressures and deadlines are too strict
- Exhaustion and tiredness that may lead to diminished concentration and result in mistakes being made or accidents occurring if frequent breaks are not taken.
Ergonomic solutions to common disorders
In most of the cases mentioned above ergonomic solutions will entail adjusting your work environment or equipment or your posture. Here are a few examples:
- Arrange your work area in such a way that you do not have to bend, stoop or reach for things
- Invest in an ergonomically designed chair with an adjustable lumber support and a high back and headrest as well as adjustable armrests and seat. Make sure the seat fits you so that you will not be inclined to sit on the edge or lean forward or have your feet dangling in the air
- Centre your computer monitor with your keyboard and chair at approximately elbow height to enable you to type without bending your wrists. Use an arm or wrist rest if necessary
- Adjust the height of your computer screen by sitting in your chair closing both eyes then slowly reopening them. The point where your eyes focus should correlate with the centre of your screen
- Eliminate glare on your computer screen to avoid eyestrain and headaches. Ask for a glare filter if necessary and position your computer at a right angle to any windows. Use a light screen background; it’s easier on the eyes
- Posture is important when sitting or standing for prolonged periods as bad posture may cause back and neck pain. Also take frequent breaks; stand, stretch or take a walk at 20-minute intervals. If this is not possible, just change your position frequently to prevent stress on the muscles, ligaments and tendons in your back
- Relieve stress by being informed about what is expected of you and by controlling your working environment.
Ergonomics: a mutually satisfying solution
Understanding the benefits of ergonomics in the workplace is beneficial to both employer and employee. Good ergonomics sense makes good economic sense! It will save money by reducing injuries and absence from work and will increase productivity by fitting the task to the worker in a safe and healthy environment.
An ergonomics approach to avoiding workplace injury. AIHA. Retrieved from: www.aiha.org
Ergonomics in the workplace. Health and Safety Authority. Retrieved from: www.has.ie
Lefler, RK. Office chair: choosing the right ergonomic office chair. Retrieved from: http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/office-chair-choosing-right-ergonomic-office-chair
Triana, JJ. & Selby, NC. Ergonomics of the office and workplace: an overview. Retrieved from: http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/ergonomics-office-and-workplace-overview
Understanding ergonomics at work. HSE leaflet. Retrieved from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg90.pdf