Ergonomic hazards are among the most common occupational hazards faced by today’s workforce. Compared to other risks, ergonomic hazards are difficult to spot as their effects are not always felt immediately. While short-term exposure to these hazards may only result in “sore muscles,” long-term exposure can result in serious health issues.
The Impact of Ergonomics
Ergonomics is the science of fitting a workspace to an individual’s needs. The goal is to increase efficiency while reducing discomfort and the likelihood of injury.
The discomfort and pain from slouching at a desk all day is very common, with many office workers suffering pain at least once a week. Employees who are working at ergonomically incorrect workstations or who practice poor posture can suffer from neck, shoulder, wrist, and elbow discomfort. Over time, incorrect ergonomics can lead to a number of health issues that may have long-lasting effects, including head or neck strain and damage to muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. In addition, a poorly designed workstation can result in frustrated and fatigued workers, increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and product quality issues.
Approximately one-third of workers compensation costs are spent on musculoskeletal disorders.
If you’re sitting at your workstation for eight hours a day, it’s important for these hours to be as healthy as possible. While completing a motion that’s not ergonomic may feel safe or even natural for the short term, prolonged use of an unhealthy body movement can lead to long-term injuries and strains.
An ergonomic hazard is a physical factor that harms the musculoskeletal system. Some ergonomic hazards include:
- Improperly adjusted workstations and chairs
- Poor body positioning
- Poor lighting
- Awkward movements
- Frequent lifting
- Manual handling
- Poor posture
- Repetitive motion
Back injuries account for one out of every five workplace injuries or illnesses that result in days away from work.
Benefits of Correct Ergonomics
Many injuries and discomforts can be prevented by establishing or improving a workplace ergonomics process. In addition, an ergonomically correct workspace can result in the following benefits:
- Reduced workers compensation and health care costs.
- Improved productivity and product quality.
- Reduced turnover and absenteeism.
- Improved morale and increased employee involvement.
Tips for Good Posture and Correct Ergonomics
The key to preventing work-related neck and back injuries is to evaluate employee workstations and make sure they promote good posture and are ergonomically correct. Workstations are more efficient when they are designed to allow for good posture, less exertion, fewer motions, and better heights and reaches. Typically, aches and pains from office work stem from physical stress due to prolonged and awkward positions, repetitive motions, and overuse.
Share these tips with employees to help promote good posture and correct ergonomics.
- Chair position: Adjust the height of your chair so your feet rest comfortably on the floor, with your knees about level with your hips, making sure your seat is not pressing against the back of your knees.
- Back support: Keep your backbone straight, shoulders back, abdomen and buttocks pulled in, and chin tucked. If your chair does not allow this, try placing a cushion between the curve of your lower back and the back of the chair.
- Footrest: Rest your feet on a flat surface. If your chair is too high, consider using a footrest.
- Computer monitor: Position your monitor 18 to 30 inches from your eyes. The top of your screen should be at or below eye level so you look slightly down at your work. If glare is a problem, turn off some or all overhead lights and close blinds if possible.
- Key objects: Arrange frequently used objects — such as pen and notebook, phone, water bottle — within 10 inches of your body.
- Headsets: Use a headset if you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time.
- Wrist rest: Keep your wrists in a straight, natural position when using your keyboard. Do not use your wrist rest while typing. Use it to take occasional breaks from typing.
- Mouse: Place your mouse close to the side of your keyboard so you don’t have to reach too far to use it.
Remote Workstation Tips
Working from home comes with its own set of challenges. Taking small steps can go a long way toward working more productively, preventing ergonomic injuries, and improving physical well-being.
In addition to the tips above, share the following recommendations with remote employees to help promote an ergonomically correct work environment at home.
- Chair: Use a sturdy chair that supports the curvature of your spine.
- Desk: Find a work surface, such as a desk or table that has space underneath for your legs and feet without your knees banging on the bottom. If a work surface is too low, adjust the chair or work surface accordingly. Cushion your wrists from the surface edge with padding or a wrist rest.
- File storage: Organize files and materials so you don’t have to frequently bend and strain to reach them.
- Keyboard and mouse: When using a keyboard and mouse, keep them on the same surface. Ideally, a flat keyboard is better than one tilted up. Position your arms so your wrists can be straight, with your arms at elbow level. If using a laptop, the same principles apply.
- Cords: Be aware of other risk factors that may be present, such as overloading electrical outlets or creating tripping hazards with power strips or extension cords running across the floor.
It is never too late to start practicing good posture and office ergonomics. In addition to the above tips, it is beneficial for employees to take stretching breaks throughout the day. Sitting at a desk all day, even with the best posture and ergonomics, can still be stressful on your body. On average, your body can only tolerate one position for about 20 minutes before needing readjustment. Taking a one-minute break every 20 minutes is helpful.
Contact your Leavitt Group insurance advisor to learn more about creating a more ergonomically correct workplace for your employees.