What is Ergonomics? Ergonomics In The Workplace

You might not know what ergonomics is, so let's start with a definition:

Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and jobs to suit the worker for maximum efficiency, comfort, performance, and safety. Ergonomic principles can be applied to most types of work that involve sitting or standing at a desk or other workstation.

Ergonomics is not a new concept, as it has been around since the early 20th century. Everything you see that is man-made has been specifically designed to fit the end-user. From the curves on your pen to the shape of your room, ergonomics is all around you.

For work purposes, ergonomics can help increase our comfort and performance while decreasing the risk of injury or stress-related problems.

The term 'ergonomic' doesn't mean that it's fit for human use. It means that special attention has been given to the design of the object to best suit its intended use.

New technologies have made ergonomic considerations even more important as computers and other digital devices are now used constantly in our work lives.


What are the risks of poor ergonomics?

Poor design is not the same as poor ergonomic design. The ergonomics principle is all about ensuring that the end-user can use an object without pain or injury.

But ergonomics must be balanced with other important design factors such as aesthetics, the current market and product budget which can determine how well parts are put together.

What's more important than just making a good-looking chair? Ergonomic considerations like having appropriate weight distribution for sitting down or being too heavy to easily lift is also crucial in determining if it will work out long-term.

It's important to design products that suit their purpose. An example is an office chair - ergonomic designs not only boosts the productivity of employees, but it also decreases employee fatigue and discomfort.

Common ergonomic injuries include

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome - is a condition that affects the median nerve of your forearm. The symptoms include pain, numbness, and weakness in your wrists and hands.
  • Lower back problems - The most common cause of lower back pain is bad posture. When you sit at a desk for hours on end, or even just spend too much time sitting in general, it can result in tension and strain in your back muscles.
  • Raynaud's disease - is a type of repetitive strain injury that occurs when you're working for long periods of time with your hands. It can cause pain and numbness in the fingers or toes, as well as swelling.
  • Ganglion cysts - are common and treatable. They develop when a jelly-like substance forms on or near a joint and becomes inflamed from excessive overuse, causing it to swell.
  • Tendonitis - tendonitis occurs due to repetitive motion and bad posture. This can happen when you work at a computer, do certain activities like cooking, or even while exercising.

The cost of work-related ill-health

For businesses, the cost of poor ergonomics can be high. It can take a toll on the mental well-being of their employees and undermine productivity. In some cases, it could also result in costly medical treatments for injuries sustained while at work.

The latest research by ergonomics experts found that poor ergonomic design contributed to 76% of overuse injury claims from UK workers aged 16-64 years old between 2008 and 2013. Furthermore, financial losses incurred as a result are substantial - £400 million per annum is spent annually on compensation for these types of injuries (Haynes et al., 2016).

How to promote good ergonomics

As employers, it's important to ensure your workforce is ergonomically sound. Take the following ergonomic considerations into account when designing your workplace and follow up with advice on how your employees can avoid injury.

Ergonomic equipment

There are many kinds of ergonomic equipment that can be used for work. One example is an adjustable ergonomic desk and chair which allow the user to move in any direction while staying comfortable. Another option is a keyboard with palm supports, as well as computer mice specifically designed for prolonged use.

Desks and chairs should be fitted to the person's height, weight distribution, arm reach and level of comfort. An ill-fitting office chair can lead to back pain and other problems because it will not adjust to your body type.

Workstation set-up

Alongside ergonomic equipment, your workstation should be positioned correctly. To start, find a desk that is at the correct height and place your chair in such a way that you can rest both feet flat on the ground without leaning back or bending over. For monitors, it's best to have them positioned about 16 inches away from where you are sitting (about eye level).

Have you ever considered how to sit properly at a computer? It may sound like a mundane question but it can have a significant impact on your comfort and health. One of the most important things to remember is that you should make sure to take regular breaks from sitting in front of a computer screen. This will help prevent eye strain, neck or shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, backaches, and other types of injuries related to prolonged periods of sitting.

For an in-depth look at how to sit properly, read our guide here.


Regular movement

The key to heightened productivity and greater workplace health is finding the balance between movement and working. Ideally, you should be working without interruption for 45 minutes to an hour before taking a 5 to 15-minute break. Even if that means just walking around the office or stretching in your chair, this can do wonders for our overall wellbeing and mental health.

Movement has many benefits that help with concentration and workplace health including improved blood circulation, reduced risk of heart disease, and even a reduction in muscle degeneration.

We all know it: poor posture is a key contributor to pain at the workplace. Posture can also affect our ability to concentrate and cause long-term issues like backache or fatigue. But which stretches should we be doing? To avoid lower back pain, you should focus on releasing tight hamstrings with a flexed foot stretch and an active quadriceps stretch.

A good rule of thumb is that any stretch that lengthens your muscles while making sure they are comfortable is a good one. This might include a hamstring stretch on the floor, a calf stretch leaning against your desk, or even just stretching your fingers towards your toes while seated in front of the computer. And don’t forget about your wrists!

For a guide on what the best stretches to perform in the office are, head over to our guide here.


Mindful posture practice

We may not realise it, but we often slouch. So much so that this can lead to a range of problems.

But why do we slouch? Simple: office chairs were never meant for the long hours that many people spend in one sitting per day. It's easy to fall into bad habits like hunching forward, stretching your legs out, or leaning back too far when you're trying to find comfort somewhere.

While the technology and thought process going into designing office chairs has improved, it's not enough to combat the long working hours office workers are faced with.

However, there is an easy and simple way for office workers to fix their posture: mindful posture practice. This involves paying attention to your posture while you're sitting or standing so that you can correct any bad habits before they become a problem.

woman sitting with poor posture

Technology

Even the technology and the software we use on a daily basis at work can have a profound effect on our day and general health.

Unusable or slow software can lead to frustration and unhappy employees which can lower productivity quite significantly.

Employers should be ensuring all software and devices are up-to-date and working for their intended purpose.

Office Temperature

We all have different preferences when it comes to office temperature. Some people love it when the office is hot and others prefer a cold temperature.

A cold office is almost the worst to work in. Studies done by NASA showed that people's productivity drops by 13% when they're working in a room below 21 degrees celsius, and it doesn't improve until you get up to 23.8 degrees.

Hot offices increase fatigue which can vastly reduce productivity.

The temperature that is just right for you may not be the temperature that's most productive for others. Temperature control is important in any office space to ensure productivity levels are high and comfortable. This can be accomplished by placing a thermostat somewhere central, or investing in an air conditioner with multiple zones so employees can have different needs met.


Humidity

Humidity can also have significant effects on employees. Low humidity can cause dry eyes and throat irritation, while high humidity can cause the temperature to feel hotter.

Humidity levels should be around 40-60% for an office space that is temperature-controlled and free of drafts. This will keep employees comfortable without feeling too hot or too cold - which means their productivity won't drop!

Air purification systems can help improve indoor air quality so employees don't have to worry about catching a cold or flu from their desk mates.

Regular breaks

Sitting at a desk all day in front of a screen can be tough on your neck, back, and shoulders. It's a good idea for office workers to take regular breaks throughout the day--standing up at their desk or taking some time to walk around will help them keep comfortable while they work!

It might seem like you're being unproductive when you're away from your desk but it can actually extremely beneficial to your overall productivity - giving your mind and body a break from the tasks at hand.

Standing desks can help you take breaks more often. You can alternate between sitting at your desk and standing while completing tasks--it's a great way to stay comfortable throughout the day and helps with productivity by giving your body a chance to rest from time to times

A study showed that taking regular office-appropriate breaks helps reduce discomfort-related pain, fatigue, and headaches.

Lighting

It may sound trivial but lighting can play an important role in the happiness of employees. It can improve office morale and productivity.

One way to accomplish this is with natural light--most people are drawn to natural light because it's more conducive for focus rather than artificial lighting from office lights which usually casts a blue tint on the skin tone, making them look sickly in colour.

To get as much natural light as possible into an office, consider arranging the office desks so that office workers are in a position where they can look outside. This is not possible all the time, but this should be done when possible to create the best result for office lighting.

office with natural lighting


Noise

Noise is disruptive and can cause office workers to feel stressed out, frustrated, or angry if it's not something they've been exposed to before.

An office should have a noise-free zone which will be different depending on the type of work being done in that space--for example, an office with employees who are primarily working alone can use working pods or booths to create a low-noise office environment.

It is important for an office to provide ample opportunities for employees to get away from the general hustle and bustle of the regular workday.

Office layout

Poorly planned office layouts can cause office workers to become more tired, less productive, and have headaches.

When there is a lack of fresh air in an office space, some people may feel claustrophobic and anxious as well.

A cluttered office can also create a negative environment for office workers who are trying to get work done.

Studies have shown that office layouts with an open floor plan can create a higher noise level, which in turn leads to less productivity for office employees.

To combat these problems, it is important for offices to understand the risks of their office layout and how they can make changes.

Don't let your office layout hurt productivity.

Everyone's different, but we've put together some general guidelines to help maximize the benefits of an open versus closed-off office space.

Open floor plans can work for teams that need frequent collaboration and brainstorming--but they can also be too distracting for more independent tasks like writing or completing reports. Closed-off offices are better suited when you're working on something where concentration is key--otherwise, it could create a negative environment with less opportunity for fresh air and natural light.

For a complete in-depth look at office design, see our infographic "Office Design Wars: Which Style Is Truly The Best?"


In Conclusion

The importance of ergonomics in the workplace is indisputable - this goes without saying. However, it's not just about having one or two people on your team who understand the basics and can help with some simple adjustments to desks, chairs, monitors, keyboards, and mice; employers must be more proactive by thinking about what they're asking their employees to do day-in and day-out.

If you're looking for a way to boost productivity among your workforce while also reducing employee turnover rates as well as absenteeism due to illness-related fatigue or other health issues like carpal tunnel syndrome that are often exacerbated by poor workstation ergonomics, then give us a call (01234 834693) for recommendations on ergonomic office furniture.