Workplace Ergonomics: Your Complete Guide

You clock in around 2,000 work-hours each year, and all you get are blurry eyes, aching joints, and a hurting back. Isn’t that package a not-so-desirable retirement gift?

In the United States alone, about 7% of all diseases are related to muscle strain and work fatigue. Of all those affected, 62% have some limitations in movement. Indeed, you wouldn’t want that.

So, how could you or your company improve your experience at work? Is there any way to avoid the pitfalls most workers face within their cubicles?

Well, what you need to practice is excellent workplace ergonomics.

What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the field of study that aims to fit the job to the person. It’s the process of designing and arranging the workplace to encourage productivity among workers.

Simply put, it’s about making your environment conducive to the highest working efficiency. This applies to your posture and the tools around you, as well.

Picture it this way. If your workplace ergonomics is poor, you would often experience body pain while at work. You could even be less efficient throughout your working hours!

Primary Goal Of Workplace Ergonomics

The primary goal is to accommodate and prevent any Musculoskeletal Disorder or MSD.

MSDs are a group of disorders in the nerves, muscles, and tendons. In other words, it involves your musculoskeletal system. They’re caused and even aggravated by repeated bodily movements. Mostly though, MSDs are triggered by awkward postures.

Yes, repetitive motion and static positions are the primary culprits for MSDs. This is especially true in corporate settings. Simply put, straining induces stress, and prolonged stress causes injury.

Think of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Several studies already implicated the close relationship between CTS and one’s typing posture. This disorder can result from a poor keyboard structure. CTS, however, can also result from the act of bending your wrist on one side for too long.

In other words, it can be primarily due to poor ergonomics.

Meanwhile, having injuries on the lower back, upper extremities, and the neck have long been linked to workplace factors. With excellent workplace ergonomics, body pain is not supposed to wear employees out. But, without good ergonomics, musculoskeletal disorders occur.

MSDs include the following:

  • Tendinitis
  • Trigger finger
  • Muscle strains
  • Lower back pain
  • Shoulder or rotator cuff injuries
  • Elbow injuries or epicondylitis

While many of these disorders are preventable, it’s pretty easy to take our working postures for granted. Imagine the 134,550 cases of back-related MSDs in 2016 in the US alone!

In other words, if you don’t give importance to workplace ergonomics now, you could be leaving your body to suffer from MSDs after retirement.

Ergonomics In The Workplace

Like any other principle, workplace ergonomics have a few basics. Most of it, though, revolves around the place where you work, i.e., your work station.

If you’re working under a company, it’s the responsibility of the management to provide you with ergonomic work stations. This condition applies as far as your health and safety are concerned.

Suppose, though, that you need to set up your working hub. Here are a few work station guidelines that you must keep in mind.

Understanding the Work Station

Let’s talk about the usual office setting. You’ll have a chair, a desk, a desktop or a laptop on a stand, a keyboard, and a mouse.

graphic of individuals sitting at the workstation with parts labeled with numbers

You’ll see from the numbered illustration above the ideal positioning of your eyes, neck, shoulders, arms, wrist, back, knees, legs, and feet. Of course — all with respect to the tools in your work station.

Now take note of the following guidelines.

1. Monitor

Set the top of your screen to be at eye-level.

2. Body

Your body should be centered in front of the monitor and keyboard.

3. Forearms

Level or tilt your forearms up slightly.

4. Lower Back

Make sure your workplace chair supports your lower back.

5. Wrists

Your wrists should not rest when you’re using the keyboard.

6. Legs

Let your legs stay horizontal.

7. Feet

Try keeping your feet flat on a footrest or only on the floor.

Once you’ve practiced the above positions enough times, you’ll soon get used to them. In short, your posture eventually becomes a habit.

But what if you already know how to position yourself, and you just don’t have the right work station? The solution? Get one.

How to Set Up An Ergonomic Friendly Work Station

Let’s now go through the process of how you can create an ergonomic work station at your home or office.

Getting Your Chair Right

If you want to correct your working posture, it all starts with using the right chair. You should consider this to be the most crucial part of your work station setup.

So What Makes a Chair a Chair

Consider the following factors when choosing an office chair.

  • Breathable
    Choose a chair with a breathable design. If you sit on this kind of chair, you should be able to experience the same thermal condition when you’re standing.

    With breathable material, this perfect chair should allow proper heat conduction. It also enables the dispersion of moisture away from your skin’s surface.

  • Adjustable Lumbar
    Adjustable lumbar support is a feature in most ergonomic chairs. You’ll know if a chair has excellent lumbar back support if it should fit against the natural curve of your spine. It should allow the small of your back to rest.

  • Adjustable Armrest
    Take note that the purpose of the armrest is to relieve the strain and pressure from your shoulders. It should allow your upper back muscles to relax.

    So, you should choose a chair with armrests that are flexible enough to fit any body type. It should be padded to provide you as much comfort, too!

  • Seat Pan with rounded front edge (waterfall)
    Find a chair with a seat pan that has a rounded front edge curved foam. This shape helps relieve the pressure on the back of the thighs and behind the knees. It maintains the blood circulation in lower limbs.

  • Ability to tilt backwards and forwards
    If your chair has a mechanical feature that lets you change the angle of the chair seat, then it should be great! This mechanism can eventually reduce the pressure on your back and keep a proper posture as you sit.

  • Five-caster base and full 360 swivel
    Find a chair that can roll around and about. Having one that has a five-caster base and a full 360-degree swivel achieves just that. Moreover, a 360-swivel feature allows you to move freely in any direction you need to face.

    Remember this principle: the thinner your chair’s wheels are, the easier it will be to push and move them around. Having narrow caster-wheels reduces the amount of effort to move and stop the chair.

    Also, take note that one of the critical components of the caster wheel is the bearing. Bearing improves the mobility of the wheels. When your work chair has this and the above features, you can lessen your effort in reaching office items. You can even become more effective at multitasking!

Getting Your Seat Adjustments Right

Once you have your perfect work chair, you need to make adjustments for it to match your height.

  • Chair height
    Adjust the height of your work chair such that your feet can be flat on the floor. When sitting, your knees should be at a 90-degree angle.
  • Seat Pan
    Adjust the height of your work chair such that your feet can be flat on the floor. When sitting, your knees should be at a 90-degree angle.
  • Thigh Support
    Support your thighs by adjusting the depth of the seat. You can do so by moving the backrest forward and backward. This makes the clearance comfortable enough.
  • Armrest height
    Your arms should be supported by armrest without raising your shoulders.
    1. The low-level backrest supports the lumbar region.
    2. The medium-level backrest – gives full shoulder support.
    3. The high-level backrest – provides full support of the head and neck.
  • Feet flat on the floor
    If your feet can’t reach the floor and keep it flat — i.e., the chair is too high — consider using a footrest. It can provide you a significant amount of comfort. Or, you can also use some alternative to a footrest. A pile of sturdy boards or a small stool will do.

Getting Your Work Station Right

At this point, we’d like to remind you that good ergonomics is not just about the chair. Getting your work desk right is extremely important, too.

So, here’s how you can improve your work station.

Work Surface

  • Your work surface should be elbow level so you can comfortably place or hang your upper arms in the desk. This is to prevent your shoulder muscles from straining.

Keyboard and Mouse Adjustments

  • Maintain your keyboard at 5cm from the front edge of the desk.
  • Remember to rest your hands when you’re not typing.
  • If you have a laptop, use a laptop stand, an external keyboard, and a mouse.

Peripheral Items

  • Use a document stand to avoid neck twisting when typing or looking at a document.
  • Use a headset to reduce the stress in the neck when using a telephone.

Storage

  • Store your materials between 15” to 48” above the floor. This way, you can reach your office items without reaching too low and straining your back.
  • Label your materials and documents clearly and correctly. Clear labels minimize your time in deciding which record to pull out.
  • Put those items you regularly work on closest to you.
  • Follow the recommended arrangement of desk items from the graphic below.

Lighting your Work Station

Did you know that workplace lighting is one of the most common causes of eyestrain? People in offices complain about eyestrain a lot. You’ll hear these complaints, especially from those who face the computer all day.

Excellent workplace ergonomics also involves proper lighting and monitor placement. Add in some eye exercises, and you already have the ingredients for adequate eyecare at work.

Proper Lighting Conditions

  • You often notice how too bright light can wash out the images on your computer screen. Indeed, too much lighting can make it more difficult for you to see the monitor. So, you need to prevent intense or uneven light in the field of vision.
  • To prevent eyestrain, you can use a portable desk lighting. You can reposition it every time the natural light from outside would shift angles.
  • You may also use indirect or shielded lighting. This type of illumination covers bulbs from direct view, thus preventing glare.
  • Finally, try to reduce direct sunlight. Set up blinds where you can.

Monitor Placement in Relation to Lighting

  • Place your monitor on a stable surface in the center of your desk.
  • Adjust the contrast and brightness of your monitor’s settings. Doing so should improve the screen image and reduce eyestrain.
  • If you can, position your monitor such that it’s at right angles with the window. This way, you can prevent outside light from messing with either your screen or your eyes.

Visual Clarity

  • Blink your eyes more often whenever you’re staring at a computer screen to keep them lubricated.
  • Every 10 to 20 minutes, look away from your monitor screen. Then, keep your eyes focused on an object located at least 20 feet away. This will reduce stress to your eye muscles.

Causes Of Injuries in the Workplace

Despite your best efforts in optimizing your work station, injuries can still happen. Some are merely accidental, while others come from working almost “to death.”

Non-accidental Injury

Let’s begin with something you can control — non-accidental injuries. These are basically the result of your regular activities and tasks. Mostly, though, they happen when you’re abusing yourself!

Causes include fatigue, prolonged movements, and repetitive tasks from sitting in a chair. Standing for too long can even cause you injury, as well.

Office Chair Back Injury

Suffering from an office-chair back injury often results from an incorrect sitting posture. You need to watch how you sit as it might be damaging your spinal structures and/or worsen your back pain.

Back Injury From Physically Demanding Work

Let’s bring this up: work isn’t just confined in the office or in front of a desk. If you’re a health worker or a construction worker, you could be prone to physical injury.

Consider this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that MSDs resulting from “overexertion in lifting” account for 31% of cases for all workers in 2015. If everyone practiced good ergonomics, all these non-accidental injuries could be avoided.

Accidental Injury

Accidental injuries, on the other hand, are the result of unexpected events and, of course, accidents. Examples are slipping and falling while at work.

While accidental injuries come as a surprise, you can still do something to avoid them. For instance, you may have to refrain from lifting objects beyond your capacity. Or, you may arrange your workplace such that it’s least likely for wires to cause tripping.

How to Prevent Posture Problems

Good ergonomics isn’t just about optimizing your work station. It’s also about how you move about (or sit stiffly still) while being at work! After all, how good is lumbar support if you’re always stooping to your desk?

Ask For Help

When carrying a heavy object, ask for help. No one needs to prove to be the company’s Hercules if health and safety are already in question.

Take note that repetitive lifting and stretching can cause back injuries. Know your limits! Be sure to let your manager know if a lifting task turns out to be too much for your capacity.

Get Proper Tools

If you’re going to lift heavy or bulky items, get the proper tools you need. For instance, you can use scissor lifts to raise the load you’re lifting mechanically.

scissors lift

Try to remember some physics principles while lifting, too. As much as possible, keep your load close to your body’s center of gravity so you won’t easily topple off.

Change Positions Regularly

Move, sit, or stand. Standing or sitting for too long actually causes back pain. Take note that your body can tolerate staying in one position for only 20 minutes.

When you hold the same position, your muscles do not return to their original elastic state. The same holds true for the ligaments and tendons in your back. Eventually, this causes stress to build up!

Do Workplace Exercise

Follow this logic. If straining is the primary culprit in work-related MSDs, then you just have to break free. That is to break free from repetition or prolonged positions!

So, one effective method to avoid straining your muscles at work is to do workplace exercises. A good rule of thumb with breaks is to stand up every 45 minutes. Then, you could do some shoulder shrugs or neck rolls. You could also have some ankle rotations, leg extensions, or overhead stretches.

  • Shoulder Shrugs

    shoulder shrugs

    – Shoulder shrugs are great for employees stuck in desk jobs. They work your trapezius muscles — those situated on either side of your neck.
    – In doing shoulder shrugs, you’re just bringing your shoulders up and down. Bring them as high up when inhaling, then bring them down as you breathe out.

  • Neck Rolls
    neck rolls
    – Starting in a neutral neck position, roll your head to the left side. Then, move it to the back, to the right side, to the front, and turn back up to the initial position.
  • Ankle Rotations
    ankle rotations
    – Ankle rotations or ankle circles are similar to neck rolls — only with your ankles!
  • Leg Extensions

    leg extensions

    – Typically, leg extensions are done in the gym. But, you can also do leg extensions with your bodyweight. Get down on your knees and stretch your legs as much as you can by bending your body backward.
    – This exercise might look a little more complicated than the others. Still, it helps a lot when you do it during long breaks.

  • Overhead stretches

    overhead stretches

    Overhead stretches work on your abs, chest, and back. Hence, they strengthen your upper body and lessen your tendency to slouch at work.
    – To do these stretches, stand up straight, hold your arms up high, and then fully stretch your torso as much as you can.

Work Place Ergonomic Checklist

Want a speedy guide to maintain an ergonomic workspace? We’ve prepared a checklist for you!

This checklist is a quick assessment of your workspace or workstation. If your answers are mostly nos, it means you have to work on improving ergonomics.

So, what was your assessment? Was everything a “yes”? If not, then you should consider a workplace makeover using the guidelines above. Then, you should be able to reap the many benefits of workplace ergonomics.

Workplace Ergonomics Has Many Benefits

Practicing excellent workplace ergonomics has practical benefits, especially for your health and productivity. For one, it improves the performance of the individual workers. It boosts the company’s overall productivity as well.

Quality Performance

Poor workplace ergonomics translates to having fatigue at work. If you can’t focus on the task because you’re confronted with eyestrain, you’ll have a lousy performance.

On the other hand, good ergonomics makes your environment conducive to working. With such a favorable working environment, you tend to have increased focus. You could also feel more motivated to attend to your tasks.

Improved Morale And Productivity

With decreased discomfort at work, you experience a boost in your morale. As a result, you become more productive. Good ergonomics also ensure that you’re spending your day on an efficient work station. You can handle the routinary ones with lesser effort and fewer motions. So, you’re able to preserve your energy for the more demanding ones.

Increased Savings

Lowering the risk factors for MSDs means reducing treatment costs significantly. This works whether you’re running your enterprise or you’re working for a company. Note that the cost of occupational injuries can reach up to 30% of employee compensation.

With proper ergonomics, you don’t have to suffer from MSDs. Without these disorders, you wouldn’t have to spend on costly treatment plans.

Better Employee Engagement

Employees know if their company is giving more priority to their safety at work. When they experience minimal stress at work, employees volunteer to join in projects. They would feel more valued, so they would eventually be more willing to give back.

Enhanced Health And Safety Culture

A company that prioritizes ergonomics provides a safe environment for its workers. It gives assurance to employees that health is one of its core values. If you’re working for this kind of company, you know the high importance being placed on you.

Indeed, implementing excellent workplace ergonomics creates a safety culture within the company. This will undoubtedly bring back superior employee performance.

Ergonomics Is Fundamental Part Of Workplace

Whether you’re the company’s head or the sole worker of your own enterprise, workplace ergonomics is one high-value investment. And you wouldn’t want to miss it! When you do it right, your rewards are high. But if you do it wrong, it severely damages productivity. It also raises medical costs you would otherwise have spent towards your work goals.

In other words, workplace ergonomics is fundamental. Educating yourself about it is as important as planning for your professional success. When you make it a priority, it brings back the value you’ve initially invested and so much more.

Wouldn’t your business and people want that?

Learn the benefits of practicing good ergonomics, read Ergonomics Basics: The 101 Guide

References:
https://cdn.neoscriber.org/, https://www.webmd.com/, https://www.sciencedirect.com/, https://certisafety.com/, https://apps.who.int/, https://www.bls.gov/, https://www.hsa.ie/, https://www.bls.gov/, https://www.healthline.com/, https://www.verywellhealth.com/, https://www.spotebi.com/, https://www.vahvafitness.com/, https://www.jefit.com/, https://www.osha.gov/

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