October is National Ergonomics Month, and there’s no better time to evaluate your office environment. You may think that crafting an ergonomic workspace is mostly about getting certain chairs or keyboards, but in reality the principles of this field go far beyond comfort.
Making an office more ergonomic leads to healthier, more productive employees. Here’s how.
What Is an Ergonomic Space?
Ergonomics explores how people can work better and more efficiently. In general, an ergonomic workplace uses information about how people work to make changes that promote and protect employees’ health. This is critical for jobs with repetitive tasks like lifting, jobs involving many tools or jobs with long bouts of sitting and typing.
When employees work in an environment that doesn’t make sense for them, they risk spending long periods of time in awkward positions or performing tasks that put them at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). And those injuries pose a big problem for the workforce. MSDs include injuries such as:
- Low back injuries
- Overuse injuries, such as damage to the rotator cuff, elbow or trigger finger
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that 33% of worker illnesses and injury cases were due to MSDs. They’re also the leading cause of lost working days and reduced work.
Ergonomics in the workplace may be even more important for aging Baby Boomers who are waiting longer to retire. For instance, sitting for long periods and with poor posture can lead to lower back pain. It’s a condition that affects all age groups, but people over 55 experience it more frequently. About 47% of workers older than 55 have arthritis, while 44% have hypertension, and they are the most likely age group to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. An office environment that doesn’t fit their needs can exacerbate these issues.
How to Improve Ergonomics in the Workplace
Creating an ergonomic environment starts with assessing your current situation. Consider the tasks your employees do in a typical day: Walk around desks, through a warehouse or along an assembly line to observe the repetitive movements employees perform. Note where you observe poor posture, strenuous lifting requirements or heavily used tools, and look for opportunities to make the employees more comfortable and less prone to injury. Make special note of any adjustments employees have made to their space or items themselves, such as placing cushions on desk chairs; they may indicate that your employees already know where there’s room for improvement.
Once you have a list of possible hazards in hand, consider following the guide to implementing an ergonomics program in the workplace created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guide recommends a hierarchy for making changes, starting with eliminating risks that could cause falls, slips or injuries. You can also change the way people work and ensure they have equipment that lessens MSDs, such as adjusting chairs and monitors to the appropriate height for good posture or introducing assisted devices for lifting and moving products through a warehouse.
If you’d prefer having a professional make the assessment, ergonomics experts can come to your office to perform an analysis and make recommendations. However, just making a few small changes with your workforce’s needs in mind is enough to make a difference and keep your employees working in style — and, more importantly, in comfort.
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