How to Use Ergonomics in the Workplace for Maximum Health Benefits

Most of us tend to position ourselves in a way that makes us feel most comfortable because what feels best must be best, right? Well, this is not true—failing to take ergonomic precautions when it comes to sitting for a long period of time can result in several musculoskeletal disorders and seriously impact our health.

The average office worker spends an average of 1,700 hours per year in front of the computer screen—that makes up over 70 days of sitting at a desk. Most of us tend to position ourselves in a way that makes us feel most comfortable because what feels best must be best, right? Well, this is not true—failing to take ergonomic precautions when it comes to sitting for a long period of time can result in several musculoskeletal disorders and seriously impact our health.

Every year, over 6.9 million working days are lost as a result of musculoskeletal disorders and generally progress over a period of time, especially in those who tend to endure prolonged sitting positions or repetitive motions.

The symptoms of MSDs include recurrent pain, stiff joints, shooting pains, swelling, dull aches and loss of strength. They can affect any major part of the musculoskeletal system, but most frequently affects the back, neck and shoulders. Research has found that lower back pain is the world’s most common work-related disability.

How do you prevent the onset of MSDs?

The risk of musculoskeletal disorders increases with age, but people of any age can experience them due to other conditions, like bad posture. The best way to prevent the onset of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace office environment is with ergonomics.

What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the process of designing or arranging furniture, products, systems and devices so that they fit the people that use them to minimize the risk of injury or harm as a result. The aim is to create a comfortable, safe and productive workspace by bringing together health and design, with positioning and adjustment based on thing such as:

  • Body size
  • Height
  • Strength
  • Skill
  • Speed
  • Sensory abilities (vision, hearing)

How to do apply the correct ergonomics?
Every individual is different, so the best way to educate and apply correct ergonomics is with a personal workstation assessment. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ ergonomics solution, so it’s about investigating each person to determine his or her requirements. This can be done by a specialist, or a designated staff member who takes the appropriate training.

Chair adjustments. An employee should be shown how to adjust his/her chair, which needs to be at a comfortable height with feet lying flat on the floor and knees as at a 90° angle. The individual’s back should be supported by the back and seat pan, preferably with a chair with lumbar support. The user should sit up straight in the seat, and be encouraged to take regular breaks away from the screen and walk around the office, even if this is to the kitchen to make the tea round.

Computer monitor. An employee’s screen should be adjusted so that eyes are level or slightly higher than the top of the monitor, to limit the requirement of excessive neck movements. It should also be positioned at an arms-length away from the user.

Keyboard and mouse. The computer mouse should be comfortably within reach of the user, with the forearms, wrists and mouse parallel to the desk. Wrists should be in a neutral position and is best assisted by a wrist or palm support. The keyboard should be slightly tilted and also at a comfortable distance.

Other accessories. Any equipment used by the employee should not require strained, repetitive or awkward postures or motions. This includes phones, headsets, staplers, and calculators for example.

What to do if you are experiencing a musculoskeletal disorder

If you are experiencing symptoms of a musculoskeletal disorder such as back, neck or shoulder pain, then you should visit a GP. You will likely be referred to a physiotherapist or specialist, but this can take weeks and even months. Why not visit a private GP, who is able to fit you in around your schedule, including same-day appointments?

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