Working in an office may seem relatively safe, but office employees can still be at risk for workplace injuries. Improper posture or poor workspaces can cause disruptive strains, sprains, and tears in the body, which 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites as the most common work-related injuries. Workplace injuries can be painful, debilitating, and costly, whether caused by a one-time accident or from repetitive actions or movements over time.
However, employers can often prevent workplace injuries with the help of ergonomics. The strategy lies in providing employees with tools, equipment, and an environment that reduces inadvertent strain on the body and promotes healthier workplace habits. By creating an ergonomic workspace, employers can reduce the risk of workplace injuries and improve employee comfort and productivity.
Professionals who understand the importance of ergonomics safety can play a key role in preventing these job injuries. From ergonomic assessments to workplace design and training, these professionals can help ensure employees are safe and comfortable in their work environment. Those looking to help workplaces create safer environments for their workers should consider the benefits of an advanced degree and take the next step in their career.
What Is Workplace Ergonomics Safety?
The field of ergonomics aims to optimize safety, comfort, and productivity by reducing physical strain and stress on the body. It is well understood that a healthy and comfortable work environment is essential for employee well-being and productivity.
In a workplace setting, ergonomics refers to designing and arranging workspaces, tools, and equipment to fit the needs of workers. By utilizing ergonomics, employers can create a workplace that promotes employee health and safety, reduces the risk of injuries and illnesses, and improves job satisfaction and productivity. For example, workplace ergonomics safety can involve:
- Analyzing a job’s tasks and physical demands and designing workstations and tools that fit the worker, rather than forcing the worker to adapt to the workspace
- Utilizing ergonomically designed tools like keyboards and mice
- Implementing practices like frequent breaks and stretching exercises to reduce physical strain
Why Is Ergonomics Important in the Workplace
Many jobs require a 40-hour work week, which, taken over a long enough period of time constitutes a significant portion of a worker’s life. Poor ergonomics can result in overstraining the body over time, causing discomfort or injury, potentially for life. Injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by poor posture and lead to potentially irreversible nerve damage in the arm or wrist. Ergonomics can help prevent injuries by providing tools to reduce strain and keep the body in a healthier posture.
Proper ergonomics is important in the workplaces of any industry. In addition to reducing the risk of injury, ergonomics positively impacts productivity and job satisfaction. Employees are more likely to be engaged with their work and perform at a higher caliber when they feel comfortable and supported in their workspace. These benefits reach beyond industrial workspaces and prevention of bodily injury. Ergonomic workstations in office settings can also help reduce eye strain, headaches, and other common workplace discomforts, improving employee satisfaction, performance, and productivity.
Issues Caused by Inefficient Workplace Ergonomics
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries that affect the body’s muscles, tendons, and nerves. These injuries are often caused by overexertion, awkward postures, and repetitive motions. They can result in pain, discomfort, and long-term disability, which can be costly for the employee and the employer. Employers can reduce the risk of MSDs and other workplace injuries by creating an ergonomically sound workspace.
One extremely common example of an MSD is carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition where nerves become compressed at the wrist. This compression often results in pain or tingling in the hand and arm. Repetitive hand movements, such as typing, often cause carpal tunnel, and the damage can be exacerbated by poor ergonomics in the workplace. For example, if a worker’s keyboard or mouse is not at the correct angle or height, it can cause strain on the wrists and hands over time.
Poor posture can cause headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, and stiffness. For example, if a desk or chair is at the wrong height, it can cause the employee to hunch over, leading to poor posture and pain over time. Poor placement of a computer monitor or inadequate lighting can cause eye strain, headaches, and even vision problems.
Alongside physical consequences for workers, ignoring workplace ergonomics safety can also have negative consequences for employers. Discomfort and pain caused by poor ergonomics can reduce productivity and increase absenteeism. For example, employees who experience discomfort or pain may need to take more frequent breaks, work more slowly, or take time off to recover from an injury caused by workplace strain.
Workplace injuries and conditions caused by poor ergonomics can increase healthcare costs for both employees and employers. For example, MSDs and repetitive strain injuries sometimes require medical treatment, physical therapy, or surgery, which can add to a company’s healthcare and workers’ compensation costs. Employees who take time off or leave their workplaces due to injuries can incur lost wages and other costs.
Office Ergonomics Checklist
Creating an ergonomically sound workspace is essential for promoting the health and safety of employees who work in an office setting. The following office ergonomics checklist provides a guide for optimizing safety and comfort, reducing the risk of workplace injuries, and promoting productivity and job satisfaction in office workspaces.
- Chair Height – Improper chair height can cause discomfort and pain in the hips, legs, and lower back. To achieve a proper sitting posture, individuals should raise their chair high to allow the feet to rest flat on the floor, thighs to be parallel to the floor, and hips to be level with the knees.
- Desk Height – To avoid wrist strain, which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, users should maintain desks at a height that allows them to keep their forearms parallel to the floor and their wrists in a neutral position. In the event the desk is too high, the user should utilize a footrest to adjust the seating position. If multiple individuals with different heights share a desk or workstation, a height-adjustable desk could be an ergonomic solution.
- Monitor Placement – Position the computer monitor so the top of the screen is at or slightly below eye level, which will help reduce neck and eye strain.
- Keyboard and Mouse Placement – Place the keyboard and mouse in a position that allows elbows to be at a 90-degree angle and wrists to be straight. Avoid placing these items too far away, which can cause overreaching and shoulder strain.
- Lighting – Use adjustable lighting to reduce glare and prevent eye strain and discomfort. Avoid positioning a screen in front of a bright light source.
- Ambient Noise Reduction – Ambient noise can be distracting and cause stress in the workplace. Consider using noise-canceling headphones or white noise machines to reduce distractions.
Office Ergonomics Equipment
In today’s workplace, ergonomic equipment is becoming increasingly common. According to a 2020 study in Applied Ergonomics, such equipment has been proven to reduce the risk of work-related injuries from job hazards and increase employee satisfaction and productivity. When selecting ergonomic equipment for a workplace, it’s important to ensure employees receive training on properly adjusting and using the equipment to maximize its benefits.
While office ergonomic equipment may seem like a luxury expense, it should be considered not only as a means of reducing costs from losses of productivity or workplace injuries, but also as a means to improve employee morale and productivity.
Below is a list of common equipment and how it can help employees with ergonomic safety in the workplace.
- Ergonomic Chairs – An ergonomic chair is designed to support an employee’s back, hips, and thighs and help maintain good posture while seated. Features that mark a chair as ergonomic may include adjustable seat height, lumbar support, and adjustable armrests. Properly adjusted ergonomic chairs, combined with a good posture, can help prevent lower back pain.
- Standing Desks – A standing desk allows an employee to work while standing rather than sitting down, which can help with posture and circulation. Standing desks range in styles from fixed-height desks to adjustable models, which allow transitioning between sitting and standing.
- Footrests – A footrest can help support an employee’s feet and legs to help retain an ideal seating posture. This is especially helpful for shorter individuals whose feet may not touch the ground when seated.
- Wrist Supports – By reducing the pressure on an employee’s wrists while typing or using a mouse, wrist rests can work to reduce injuries due to strain, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. These supports are typically made of soft, cushioned material and can be used on a keyboard tray or desk surface.
- Keyboard Trays – A keyboard tray can help position the keyboard and mouse at the correct height and distance from the body, which can help prevent neck, shoulder, and wrist strain. Keyboard trays are typically mounted under the desk and can be adjusted for proper height and tilt.
- Anti-Fatigue Mats – Standing in one spot for an extended period of time can result in fatigue or even pain in the feet, legs, and spine. Using an anti-fatigue mat, often made of a spongy material, provides cushioning and can reduce strain from continuous standing. These mats are typically used in industrial or retail settings where workers must stand at a counter or assembly line for their entire work shift.
- Monitor Stands – A computer monitor stand can help position the monitor at the correct height and distance from the body, which can help prevent eye strain, neck pain, and headaches. Monitor stands are typically adjustable for height and tilt to make for the best posture for each employee.
- Document Holders – A document holder can help position documents at the correct height and angle for employees who transcribe documents using a computer. These holders can help prevent neck and eye strain, assisting workers who might otherwise frequently hold their heads using improper posture for long periods of time.
Office Ergonomics Tips
Good ergonomics can go a long way toward preventing injuries and improving comfort in the workplace. Here are some practical office ergonomics tips for reducing the frequency of MSDs and other workplace injuries.
Identify Risk Factors
Employers should conduct a thorough workplace risk assessment to identify potential ergonomic hazards, such as work that requires frequent lifting, carrying bulky or heavy loads, and frequently putting employees in awkward postures. These assessments should examine tasks, equipment, and tools that may contribute to musculoskeletal disorders or other workplace injuries. Employers should also consider their employees’ physical capabilities and limitations when identifying ergonomic risks.
Train Managers and Workers
Employers should train employees on proper ergonomic safety techniques and procedures, including information on how to identify ergonomic hazards, properly use equipment and tools, and maintain good posture and body mechanics.
Proper training can help prevent workplace injuries and reduce the risk of MSDs. It can also empower employees with the knowledge to make informed decisions about maintaining their own health, as opposed to relying on an overseeing health expert during work hours. An example of this kind of ergonomic training would be guided lessons on stretching and applying good posture habits.
Implement an Ergonomic Improvement Plan
Employers can develop an ergonomic improvement plan to address potential risks to employees This may involve potentially modifying workstations, tools, or equipment to reduce ergonomic stressors, as well as putting in place various policies and suggestions on how to promote safe work habits. A well-executed ergonomic improvement plan can reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, improve productivity, and enhance employee morale and job satisfaction.
Employers should also involve employees themselves in developing an ergonomic plan to address specific feedback and concerns. For example, a manager may notice employees frequently complaining about wrist pain due to long hours of computer typing. A company’s ergonomic improvement plan could include providing adjustable ergonomic keyboards to reduce wrist strain and encouraging regular breaks for employees to stretch and relax their hands and arms.
Build Your Career Improving Workplace Ergonomics Safety
Workplace injuries caused by poor ergonomics are a major issue that can impact employees and employers alike. However, by promoting ergonomics safety in the workplace, executives, managers, and industrial hygiene professionals can help prevent these injuries and improve overall employee well-being. From simple workstation adjustments to developing workday processes that incorporate stretching and movement, there are many ways to promote good ergonomics and create a safer and healthier work environment.
Professionals looking to become leaders in analyzing, predicting, and preempting potential workplace hazards should consider the benefits of an advanced degree, such asTulane University’s Online Master of Science in Public Health in Industrial Hygiene program. This program teaches students to look at public health and safety through a scientific lens, and prepares them to prevent workplace injuries instead of merely reacting to them.
A master’s degree program can also prepare students for the Industrial Hygienist certification. Graduates can receive one year of credit toward meeting the certification’s requirement. Whether you desire to work in an academic, industrial, or commercial setting, an advanced program can prepare you to become a leader in your field through a research-supported and holistic approach to public health and safety.