Ergonomic hazards are among the most common occupational hazards faced by today’s workforce. Compared to other hazards in the workplace, 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 long-term illnesses.
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
Impact of Ergonomic Hazards
- Approximately one-third of workers compensation costs are spent on musculoskeletal disorders.
- Back injuries account for one out of every five workplace injuries or illnesses that result in days away from work.
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. A poorly-designed workstation can result in frustrated and fatigued workers, increased absenteeism, and product quality issues.
Many of these 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 are ergonomically correct and promote good posture. Work stations 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 that 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 eye level or below 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, drink cup — 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 to the side of your keyboard so you do not have to reach too far to use it.
It is never too late to start practicing good posture and office ergonomics. In addition to following the previous 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.