Table of Contents
The key to a successful business is a happy and highly motivated workforce. When employees’ well-being is prioritized, they tend to be more proactive in helping the company achieve its goals and objectives.
However, ensuring that employees are in good hands when they work does not stop with providing them with tools to do their jobs, fun activities that will help maintain the optimal level of motivation, and even handsome compensation.
Sometimes, employee benefits extend to knowing exactly what they need to work and realize their full potential. This means providing them with a healthy working environment that can contribute to their overall well-being, such as consulting experts and purchasing the right equipment to make their workplace injury-free.
This was not the case during the height of the pandemic when many employees had to work from the comfort of their homes, and setting up their workspace fell into their hands. Arranging a makeshift office can be challenging, especially when most are unaware of the proper and healthier way to put up a workstation.
This brings us to the subject of workplace ergonomics. What is it, and why do you need it?
Whether you are an employee or employer for office or remote work, this article will give you a firm understanding of workplace ergonomics, including setting up your desk for the healthiest and most productive results. Read on to learn how to improve your workspace at home and what to do if and when you return to the office.
In an increasingly digital world, computers are indispensable in the workplace. Perhaps, the greatest oversight when this reliable technology was invented was the failure to consider how the human body interacts with the equipment. Slumped in the chair eight hours a day with little to no breaks in between can be taxing. Workstations not correctly designed to support one’s posture can lead to fatigue, frustration, and even illnesses.
Working professionals glued to their desks for long periods often complain of malfunctioning low back or upper extremities. In 1999, nearly a million people needed work breaks to recover from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Every year, MSDs are accountable for almost 70 million doctor visits in the country. MSDs can lead to injury that is often painful and costly.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), musculoskeletal disorders can affect several essential body parts, including muscles, nerves, blood vessels, tendons, and ligaments. Exposure to certain tasks at work, such as lifting heavy items, reaching overhead, working awkwardly in front of the desk, or performing the same jobs repeatedly, can contribute to the risk factors of MSDs.
Fortunately, work-related MSDs are preventable through the wonders of ergonomics. The term ergonomics describes a scientific discipline that studies the physical interactions between human beings and their environment, often considering each element in a system in relation to the human. The International Ergonomics Association defines the term as the “science of work.”
Derived from the Greek word ergon, which means work, and nomos, which means laws, ergonomics as a discipline seeks to understand the interactions between humans and other elements of a system. It is also concerned with the profession that applies several factors to optimize human well-being and overall system performance, including theory, data, principles, methods, and design.
The discipline draws from many fields, including engineering design and physical therapy. When you apply the principles of ergonomics, you are trying to fit workplace conditions and job demands to the needs and capabilities of the workforce. This means determining the proper desk height and chair and providing the setup correctly. This also applies to the computer and monitor, the placement of the keyboard and mouse, and many other work area features.
The increasing risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and workplace injuries calls for proper intervention, primarily involving implementing the ergonomics principles.
Ergonomics is integral in increasing comfort while you work and, in the process, lessening stress and boosting productivity. Without the proper equipment and work setup, you will be at risk of musculoskeletal disorders, often caused by repetitive motions during office work. OSHA listed work-related MSDs as one of the most frequently reported root causes of lost or restricted work time.
Not only can a comfortable workspace help you concentrate better. A properly designed and implemented workspace can also promote an injury-free office environment. By setting up an ergonomic workspace, you are doing your part in preventing MSD from developing.
Ergonomics recognizes that each person will need a different setup because they differ in height, weight, abilities, etc. This means that in workplace ergonomics, you fit the job space to the person to increase productivity, reduce muscle fatigue, and the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
A physical therapist consulting on the ergonomic design of an office or home office measures data and applies theory, principles, and the best available methods to design an optimized environment for the individual. When conducted in an at-home environment, the physical therapist would likely make only one such consultation. However, in an office environment, they’d meet with individual workers to take measurements and interview them about existing conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ergonomics aims to eliminate injuries and disorders and reduce the stress associated with muscle strain, bad posture, and repeated tasks. Spreading awareness among employees about the importance of workplace ergonomics can help alleviate and even avoid the risk factors of work-related disorders and injuries.
Working compels you to do repetitive tasks that can affect your posture. It can also usher in stress and even affect your musculoskeletal system. Hence, your body will experience common symptoms, such as fatigue, discomfort, and pain. This can be concerning if left unattended. CDC cited implementing ergonomics programs in the office to prevent or control injuries and disorders from too much exposure to MSD’s risk factors. Here are some of the compelling benefits of proper ergonomics in the workplace.
Ensuring proper ergonomics is observed in the workplace can translate to increased savings—both for the employer and the employees. Ergonomics can lessen risk factors that can help you reduce costs.
For employers, this means encountering fewer injuries. According to OSHA Oregon, the average direct cost of a worker’s compensation claim for MSD can amount to $14,120. This does not include indirect costs that can bring the total average claim cost to more than $32,000.
Other costs employers can save from include reduced workdays, restricted days, and labor costs. Avoiding MSDs and other work-related disorders and injuries means companies can lower turnover rates and minimize acquiring and training new employees, which often proves to be costlier than retaining experienced ones.
On the part of employees, ergonomics best practices, whether in the office or at home, can be quite helpful in ensuring your steady income stream. Staying healthy and injury-free will not force you to take emergency leaves from work or dip your hands into your savings to cover medical and other related costs.
Implementing the ergonomic process in the workspace can improve productivity. If you design a workplace in a way that allows employees to maintain good posture, exert less, minimize motions, and manage better heights and reaches, they will more likely become efficient in their tasks.
Some ergonomic solutions in the workplace, like mechanical assists, adjustable height lift tables and workstations, powered equipment, and other ergonomic tools, can remove barriers that slow work down. You can meet your deadlines without exerting too much physical effort.
You can get work done in your comfort zone by reducing awkward postures. This means less fatigue and more motivation to work more efficiently, which can help boost productivity.
Both employers and employees can benefit from ergonomic principles by improving work quality. Frustrated and exhausted workers are more prone to mistakes and errors at work, which can be costly in the long run if it means affected output and dissatisfied clients. Companies that create products might have to spend double when product quality issues arise.
Employees working from home often rely on their efficiency to deliver for clients, so there is little room for mistakes. By creating an ergonomic workspace, they can work comfortably and focus on the tasks at hand. The quality of their work can mean better compensation and more opportunities for promotions.
By properly setting up your office with the guidance of ergonomic principles, you reduce the chance of incurring on-the-job accidents. You might think that only happens to workers on manufacturing lines, but it can also be expected in offices and home offices. Awkward postures in front of your desk or bending to extract things from your printer can cause workplace injury.
Other activities that frequently cause problems include repeatedly reaching overhead and pulling or pushing heavy loads. Any repetitive tasks mentioned and others you might experience create risk factors that increase the potential for an on-the-job injury.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal disorders account for 34% of workers who miss work. Setting up your home office correctly can prevent this from occurring.
Poorly designed workplaces can increase MSDs risk factors which can be detrimental to your health. A sound office ergonomic program must be part of your company’s commitment to employee welfare. Even those working from home can benefit greatly from an effective ergonomic process in their respective workspace.
Here are some steps to help you set up a healthy workplace.
Donna Costa, an occupational therapist from the University of Las Vegas, cited the device and chair as the two main issues concerning the common mistakes people make when configuring their home office. It isn't easy to set up an ergonomic workspace at home, unlike in an office environment, where ergonomics experts may be available for consultation.
The following tips are designed for people who work from home to help them ensure an ergonomic workplace:
MSDs related to work are often associated with common risk factors, such as work postures and movements, repetitiveness and pace of work, force of movements, temperature, vibration, and increased pressure, among others. These factors can manifest into different kinds of MSDs, which can include the following:
Listed among the top 10 reasons for medical visits, back pain can quickly develop into a chronic disorder. Low back pain is one of the MSDs resulting from improper ergonomics and muscle strain. Warning signs for this disorder include numbness, weakness in one or both legs, problems with urinating, light-headedness, and severe pain anywhere in the belly.
How to Prevent
Severe pain can be alleviated with a good rest for a day or two. Usually, you can treat common back pain by applying heat or cold to the painful area. For prevention, you need to implement an ergonomic workplace redesign to avoid strains and the ensuing pain in your back. This includes using the right desk, chair, and equipment. Adjusting your work schedule and workload to something more bearable is another way to prevent back pain and other health-related issues.
When you repetitively place undue pressure on your wrists, it affects the nerves, creating a sharp pain with tingling and numbness, referred to as carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the CDC, carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve at the wrist and may affect as many as 1.9 million people.
This disorder is associated with the peripheral nervous system, including the nerves and ganglia outside the spinal cord and brain. Without proper treatment, it can affect your mobility. Untreated, it can cause partial paralysis. You will need to undergo a lifestyle change, like using a wrist splint and altering your environment. In some severe cases, surgery might be necessary.
How to Prevent
Workstation changes that involve proper seating and hand and wrist placement can help reduce the risk factors for this disorder. Other measures may include sleeping with your wrists held straight, avoiding repeated flexing and extending your wrists, and decreasing repetitive and strong grasping with the wrist in a flexed position.
Repetitive movements cause swelling and pain in the small fluid sac that typically lubricates the areas between the bones and other parts of the musculoskeletal system—the muscles, tendons, tissues, and ligaments. Bursitis can occur at the elbow, shoulder, or knee.
How to Prevent
Make it a point to do a warm-up exercise before you get into your tasks, especially if this involves repetitive movements. It would help if you also took breaks in between tasks. When you feel pain due to some activities, stop and rest. It is essential to practice good posture and position your body properly when doing your daily activities.
Poor posture causes tendonitis, the inflammation of the strong fibers connecting muscles and bones. Tendinitis typically affects joints at the ankle, elbow, shoulder, kneecap, or wrist. Tendons, the connective tissues that hold muscles to bones, often reach when muscles contract, causing the bones to move. According to the American College of Rheumatology, too much stress on your muscles and joints can tear and even inflame your tendons. If the damage happens often, there is a tendency for the pain to be constant.
How to Prevent
To prevent tendonitis, you need to warm up before repetitive tasks. You will need to learn the proper method and the use of appropriate equipment for activities to avoid straining your tendons.
Nowadays, it is common to see workplace injuries and disorders, many of which are brought about by poorly designed workplaces. This highlights and reinforces the importance of developing and implementing a solid ergonomic process to transform workspaces into a place of comfort and efficiency.
Ergonomic practices can help companies and employees work healthier, faster, and more productively as they seek to eliminate barriers posed by workstations that do not adhere to ergonomic principles. Workplaces designed with ergonomics in mind can help employees, including those who work at home, reduce stress, fatigue, and discomfort and avoid the costly development of work-related injuries and disorders like MSDs.
In the process, they will also be able to reach their common goals through increased productivity and higher profit margins.