What is ergonomics in the workplace and how can we improve it?
Workplace ergonomics refers to the practice of designing a workspace to reduce team members’ fatigue and limit the potential for workplace injury. In many modern workplaces, workers spend hours completing forceful and/or repetitive tasks that can lead to musculoskeletal strain or injury, especially if those tasks aren’t supported by proper ergonomic design. These injuries can rack up costs in the form of absenteeism, reduced morale, workers’ compensation payouts, and reduced productivity overall. In contrast, designing for ergonomics in the workplace can minimize strain on workers’ bodies, thereby reducing costs and improving employees’ workplace comfort, morale, and productivity.
Some of the most common musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in American workplaces include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains, low back injuries, rotator cuff injuries, trigger finger, and epicondylitis (which affects the elbow). Certain occupations—including nurses, firefighters, stock and material movers, janitors and cleaners, truck drivers, bus drivers, and production workers—are especially prone to MSDs, but MSDs can affect any worker in any workplace.
That’s bad news, because research from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests MSDs are one of the most common causes of lost or restricted work time. In 2013, MSDs were responsible for a whopping 33 percent of all worker injury and illness cases in the U.S.
Bottom line? Paying attention to ergonomics in the workplace is important for any team that wants to remain healthy, happy, and productive. Here’s how to improve your workplace ergonomics for a more effective team.
How to Avoid Workplace Injuries (and Increase Productivity in the Process)
Responding appropriately and professionally to workplace injuries is important, but it’s even more impactful to prevent these injuries in the first place. That’s where these ergonomic workplace tips come in.
Provide team members with adjustable office equipment
Because everybody (and every body) is different, no two people fit into a workspace in exactly the same way. For this reason, it’s important to provide team members with customizable equipment that can be tailored to their respective needs. (This is especially important when it comes to facilitating proper posture.)
At a minimum, aim to provide each employee with an adjustable chair (and ideally an adjustable desk) as well as equipment that lets them adjust the height of their computer monitors.
Encourage proper posture at computer workstations
Because much of the country’s workforce spends hours sitting at a desk in front of a computer for five days a week, this is one of the most effective means to improve ergonomics in the workplace.
Desk workers should adjust their chairs so their hands, wrists, and forearms are straight and parallel to the floor. They should be able to position their computers so they can gaze directly at their computer screens without tilting their necks down or to the side. Additionally, workers’ thighs should be parallel to the floor with the knees bent at close to a 90-degree angle and the feet resting flat on the floor.
Invest in ergonomic workplace accessories
Several ergonomic tools and computer accessories can help team members customize their workspaces for the utmost comfort.
Take steps to reduce eye strain
Eye strain is another common complaint among office workers. Try these steps to combat it.
- Reduce glare by ensuring bright lights don’t shine directly on computer monitors. If that’s not possible, consider installing a glare filter on the monitor.
- Make sure monitors are approximately an arm’s length away. Working any closer to a monitor can exacerbate eye strain.
- Opt for light screen backgrounds over darker ones, as they tend to be easier to read.
- Encourage team members to look away from their screens at least every 20 minutes. To give the eyes a break, focus on an object that is at least 20 feet away for approximately 20 seconds.
Encourage team members to take breaks
Performing a task over and over again without taking a break can strain muscles and joints, which is why taking breaks is so important. Encourage team members to take breaks by looking away from computer screens at least every 20 minutes and standing up, stretching, and/or moving about after sitting for approximately an hour. It’s important to build this into the company culture so team members feel comfortable stepping away from their work throughout the day.
Train team members on the importance of workplace ergonomics
Equipment upgrades can improve workplace ergonomics, but the most meaningful impact comes from team members taking it upon themselves to create customized, healthy workspaces. For this reason, it’s important to teach employees about workplace ergonomics so they can apply these principles for their own benefit.
In addition to providing training for team members, it’s important to develop protocols for reporting and addressing ergonomics issues. That way, you make it clear that the company values ergonomics and empower team members to pursue solutions that will help them work more comfortably, happily, and productively.
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