Ergonomically Sound: Benefits of Ergonomics
By Lauren Stone
When you think of a workplace “injury,” the first image that may come to mind would be a pulled muscle in the back from lifting too heavy a box in a giant warehouse. While these types of heavy-lifting injuries are very common, so are those of smaller body parts; the fingers, wrists and elbows just to name a few. Conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Frozen Shoulder and Tendonitis are likely to strike the workforce over a significant amount of time behind a desk, hunched over a computer and scrolling the cursor of the mouse for hours at a time.
These conditions result in not only a costly expense for the company itself, but a significant decline in work productivity year after year. The amount of missed work days by employees totals over millions of dollars, but with a few additions and adjustments, this time and money may be salvageable.
“A myriad of ergonomic products
are available to prevent these injuries, ranging from wrist rests to adjustable office chairs. Each piece of equipment should be designed for reducing injury and promoting ease of use. As a rule of thumb, optimum posture may be defined as the midpoint of any limb’s range of motion. For instance, a desktop computer workstation should allow the user to keep his or her elbows at a 90-degree angle. Wrists should remain in a neutral position; there should be no bend from forearm to wrist. Meanwhile, the top of the monitor should be parallel to the top of the head. Thus all components of the workstation must support a proper working position.”
(Source: Ergo Works, Inc.)
Here are a few helpful hints for improving ergonomics in the workplace;
1. Ensure your desk chair is supportive and comfortable. Whether you need to use a back support to aid in proper spine alignment or a lower lumbar support wedge, the height of the chair should allow your feet to rest flat on the floor with your knees bent close to 90 degrees. When you sit back in the chair, your elbows should not leave the top of the desk.
2. The monitor of your computer should sit at the fore-front of your desk, facing you head-on. Eye-level is key as unnecessary stress can be placed on your back and neck if it is sitting higher or lower than eye-level.
3. The placement of the computer keyboard and mouse are also important. Your elbows should be able to rest comfortably on the top of the desk without a bend in your wrists.
According to The New Zealand Ergonomics Society, the following three examples illustrate what can occur when resources are invested in the application of ergonomics:
Example 1: User-friendly invoices - An invoice format used by Telecom Australia was responsible for 46% of customer complaints or enquiries phoned through to the company. Ergonomic redesign reduced this to 4%. Users were involved in tests of the invoices at several stages of the redesign process.
Example 2: Redesign in an assembly plant - In a study spanning 12 years, an ergonomics approach was used to solve problems of work-related illness, high staff turnover, and low company productivity in a Norwegian telephone assembly plant. Following ergonomic redesign of the workstations and the work environment, long-term sick leave and labour turnover decreased markedly, while company productivity increased. The net savings to the company were estimated at NKr 3.3 million (an eight-fold return).
Example 3: VDU workstation and job redesign - An ergonomic study evaluated VDU operalions in an airline computer centre in Singapore. Changes were made to the workplace, lighting, and the design of jobs. As a result, reports of muscle fatigue decreased by 50%, visual fatigue decreased by 30%, and keystrokes per hour improved by 25% with an error rate reduction from 1% to 0.1%.
These problems and more can easily be solved with the introduction and utilization of ergonomics. Studies have shown that faster learning times, fewer errors, less absenteeism and less labor turnover result where ergonomics are applied. Certainly a sound investment to increase profitability for companies across the globe.