Office Study Urges Proactive Approach to Reduce Ergonomic Pain

A proactive ergonomic intervention reduces pain related to poor work postures in office employees, reports a study in the October Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

But just buying ergonomic desks and chairs isn't enough--setup and adjustment by a professional ergonomist is an essential part of the proactive ergonomic approach, according to the study led by Jasminka Goldoni Laestadius, M.D., Ph.D., of The World Bank's Joint Bank/Fund Health Services Department.

Prompted by a move to a new World Bank headquarters, the researchers designed a study to determine whether a proactive approach to ergonomics could reduce pain and other symptoms in office workers. One group of workers received new ergonomic office furniture, along with information on how to set it up. Another group also received new furniture and information, plus personalized setup by a professional ergonomist.

The proactive approach reduced symptoms of musculoskeletal pain and eye strain, but only for workers receiving an expert work station setup. This group also had a significant increase in productivity. Neither group had a significant reduction in sick leave.

The reduction in symptoms was clearly related to improved work postures—"Better postures meant less pain," the researchers write. "This verifies our experience that equipment such as an adjustable chair does not add value unless properly adjusted."

Reductions in pain and other symptoms were seen only in workers who had such symptoms at the start of the study--fully half of all workers. For employees who were initially symptom free, the ergonomic program did not reduce the rate of new symptoms.

To be effective in reducing pain and improving productivity, a proactive ergonomics program needs to include an individual work station assessment, the study suggests.

"Just providing new office furniture and written instructions is not sufficient to achieve proper accommodation," Laestadius and co-authors concluded. "Good office equipment is a poor substitute for good working positions."

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