Ever since we can remember, people have been a vital part of any business process and a valuable asset in delivering high-quality products and services. No matter if you’re a two-man operation or running a giant company with branches all over the world, employee productivity can make or break your business. Hard-working, motivated, and engaged individuals who look forward to coming to work every day will certainly increase your competitive advantage in your niche more than employees who feel miserable and disengaged at work (whose frustrations will ultimately lead to low productivity).
But as we enter a new era, the digital age, the employee gains a new extension: the computer. Nowadays, almost every business uses computers and other developments in computer technology to fulfill daily tasks, ranging from contacting clients and completing orders to ensuring communication across departments. And as the computer rapidly becomes a critical part of the work process,as well, shaping the work environment, a new issue demands our attention: office ergonomics.
According to Ergonomics.co.uk, “the emphasis within ergonomics is to ensure that designs complement the strengths and abilities of people and minimise the effects of their limitations, rather than forcing them to adapt.” Essentially, researchers consider the biomechanical, physiological, and cognitive effects of work on people, and how the latter interact with products, processes, and environments. Office ergonomics looks at all these aspects and behaviors in the work environment, aiming to identify and appropriately address the consequences of prolonged computer work.
Is It Possible to Get Injured while Sitting at Your Desk?
Not only are pain and injury a common sight in the modern office environment, but ergonomic risk factors are numerous. Awkward postures, strains, forceful exertions, prolonged exposure to vibrations or varying temperatures, contact pressure, continual repetition of movements, and others are some of the known risks that, in time, can result in pain, injury, or even disability.
Employees suffering from muscle injury, tendon injury, or nerve injury may experience aching and tiredness of the affected limb that may or may not disappear overnight, accompanied in more severe cases by fatigue, weakness, and inability to sleep or perform easy tasks. Tendonitis, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, DeQuervain’s disease, tension neck syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome are listed as some of the most common disorders of the upper body currently associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). The risk of injury increases with the frequency and intensity of computer work, especially if more than one factor is present while performing work tasks.
Whenever workers are forced to adapt to a setting that exceeds their body’s limitations, they may end up developing one of the many WMSDs, costing employers a lot of money due to absenteeism, lost productivity, disability, and worker’s compensation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1992 and 2007, WMSDs accounted for 28.9% of all nonfatal injuries and illnesses, with an incidence rate with days away from work 35.4 per 10,000 full-time workers. The highest percentage of all occupational musculoskeletal injuries occurred among workers ages 25-54, with male workers accounting for 62.6% of all cases.
Ergonomics, not Just a Fancy Word
Ergonomics is the greatest tool employers currently have to minimize injury in the workplace and increase workers’ productivity. At its core, it is the most effective approach to improving the performance of people. And while there are still many business owners who believe ergonomic furniture is a costly expenditure, the numerous benefits – as shown by a growing body of research, are well worth the investment:
Ergonomics improves quality of work. Instead of being 100% involved in the work process, fatigued and stressed employees are essentially sleepwalking through their workday, putting little passion and interest into their work tasks. Some of them might even make it a habit of expressing their discomfort and unhappiness out loud and affecting the mood and comfort of the rest of the staff. On the other hand, decreased levels of discomfort and pain ensure better engagement among office workers and increased productivity.
Ergonomics reduces costs and increases profit. By thoroughly reducing risk factors for injury and illness, employers can prevent WMSDs, reducing absenteeism, loss of productivity, human error, and any costs associated with worker’s compensation claims. On the other hand, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center, the cost of implementing ergonomic solutions (furniture plus staff training) is on average $1,000 per worker, while the benefit to the employer after one year is higher than $25,000 per worker. Following this scheme, an ergonomic investment is paid off in less than 10 days.
Ergonomics engages employees. Along with providing incentives and rewarding performance, ergonomics is starting to be a very effective tool in employee engagement, increasing productivity, satisfaction, and eventually, the bottom line. Engaged employees are more likely to put passion in everything they do and identify themselves with the company’s philosophy and values, moving the company forward and driving innovation.
Ergonomics impacts company culture. Attention given to the welfare of workers help implement a culture of safety. Employees are encouraged to report adverse or unsafe work conditions, while employers are able to address them in a timely manner, reducing absenteeism and lost work days. When business leaders make their concern for safety consistent and sustained, the staff’s perception about health and safety also changes, increasing their motivation to share the same attitudes, values, and practices that define the organization.
#1. Monitor doesn’t fit: Monitors are an integral part of the modern workstation. When placed incorrectly on the work surface, too high, too low, or improperly titled, it forces the operator to maintain an awkward position for the entire duration of the work process. As a result of keeping the chin tilted forward and bending the head and upper body forwards or sideways, workers often experience back pain, neck pain, shoulder pressure, eye strain, blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches.
Solution: For the largest part, postural discomfort and the subsequent aches and pains result from the effort of looking at a monitor that’s not directly in front of the operator. Although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus among ergonomics experts as to which sightline position is optimal, an effective way to prevent injury is to center the monitor directly in front of you, making sure the first line of text (and not the monitor casing) is at eye level. The viewing distance between eyes and screen should be about arm’s length (18-28 inches). If the workstation is placed in a room with windows, causing glare from sunlight and forcing the operator to squint, discomfort can be minimized by closing window shades or turning off overhead lights and keeping the brightest light source on the side.
#2. No back support: Sitting in an office chair for prolonged periods is bad enough for your health, causing anything from chronic back pain and depression to heart disease and even death, but sitting in an office chair without adjustable seat height, armrests, comfortable cushion, or lumbar support will significantly increase the likelihood of injury and illness.
Solution: The most important thing when furnishing your office/workstation is to find a chair that fits your body, rather than settling for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Regardless if you already have back pain symptoms or not, an ergonomic office chair with the following features will considerably improve your comfort during computer work:
– Adjustable seat height to decrease back pain and eye strain
– Lumbar support built into the seat’s back to reduce stress on lumbar discs
– Adjustable armrests that naturally support the arms at the elbow, preventing slouching
– Seat depth to reduce strain on the back of the thighs or knees.
#3. No wrist rest: When wrists aren’t properly positioned on the work surface, tendons are pressed against the wrist structure, reducing the strength of hands and fingers, causing inflammation, and increasing pressure in the carpal tunnel.
Solution: Workers who tend to drop their palms while working on the computer are at risk of developing sore wrists, problem that could be easily mitigated by a palm/wrist support. These ergonomic devices are specifically designed to prevent the wrist from bending backward as the worker uses the keyboard or mouse, providing a softer surface for the wrist to rest on and also taking the pressure off arms and shoulders.
#4. No footrest: When the legs are confined in a very smallspace and the chance for movement is slim, the blood pools in the lower extremities and swelling may appear, as well as circulation problems. Without the necessary support, the bad position of the feet during sedentary work may also result in chronic low back pain due to slouching and putting pressure on the spine.
Solution: A footrestis, perhaps, one of the least known ergonomic devices that increase workers’ comfort and productivity while decreasing the possibility of injury. An ergonomic footrest that’s adjustable and supports the entire foot has several advantages, including:
– Better posture: along with other ergonomic accessories, a footrest may aid workers in maintaining good posture throughout the work day, keeping hips slightly higher than knees and lowering the pressure applied on the back of the legs when rested on the floor.
– Improved blood circulation, Keeping the feet elevated on to a footrest decreases the likelihood of developing blood clots, varicose veins, and other circulatory problems caused by inactive sitting.
– Reduced spinal pressure: ergonomic footrests have been proved to reduce stress on the spine as much as 75 percent, allowing workers to sit all back in their chairs without slouching in an awkward position or having the feet dangling in the air.
Ergonomics can help your workers in a variety of ways, benefiting their health, comfort, and work performance significantly. If you need help choosing the right furniture that fits your workers’ physical needs, the type of job they perform, and your budget, contact an expert ergonomic solutions provider in your area. With specialized help, you will be able to set up an inspiring workplace that promotes workers’ safety and wellbeing while improving the ROI of your organization.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.