This article first appeared in NH Business Review
By Carol Phillips
According to Merriam-Webster Online, ergonomics is defined as “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most eﬃciently and safely” (www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/ergonomics).
Workers typically spend dozens of hours each week sitting at desks in front of computers or doing repetitive work causing excessive strain on various parts of their bodies. What strains are repeatedly placed on your employees that might lead to future health problems? Or are they already suffering the negative effects of long periods of strain on their bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles?
Some problematic situations can include poor lighting, tripping hazards, extreme noise, heavy lifting, improper posture, dangerous tools, toxic chemicals, and air pollution. Be aware that employees who are suffering the negative effects of an injury are more likely to have an accident, since they are not working at an optimal level.
Addressing the health and safety of workers means designing a job to fit a person to reduce or eliminate injury caused by stress on the body, either acute or chronic. Common symptoms of these types of injuries include headache, eye strain, back pain, and neck pain and tightness. These injuries can lead to chronic health problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendinitis, and difficulty walking, which can cause additional injuries due to falls. These injuries typically fall under the category of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD).
Workplace injuries negatively affect productivity and profit. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks data to help employers know their overall level of risk in this important area of business. According to the BLS, “Employers and employees need definitive statistics on what kinds of serious injuries and illnesses occur to others whose work and workforce size are similar to theirs. BLS sdata permit employers to learn about the circumstances surrounding those incidents so that they can disarm potential hazards where they work.”
Companies who do not prioritize ergonomics in the workplace are at a significantly higher risk of direct and indirect losses due to accidents and injuries. Nationally, these losses cost employers millions of dollars each year. What percentage of these losses could have been prevented?
Focusing on ergonomics and safety can save your company and employees from the physical, emotional, and financial suﬀering often caused by these types of injuries. Do you have concerns regarding ergonomics being practiced effectively at your place of business? Share your these with your management team. Communication can bring unhealthy practices to light and begin the process of correcting potential problems that are likely to negatively affect productivity and increase expenses. Also, educating employees on the importance of ergonomics will likely be carried over to their personal lives, which could help them avoid personal injuries, maintaining their ability to work.
Some common recommendations can be easily implemented in order to reduce stress on the body. These include:
- Sitting with good posture in a chair that provides good lower back (lumbar) support.
- Chair height adjusted to allow thighs to be parallel to the floor.
- Feet resting flat on the floor.
- When typing, shoulders relaxed, elbows by the sides, forearms parallel to the floor, and wrists in a neutral position.
- Computer screen at a height in which eyes, looking slightly downward, fall on the top third or middle of the screen.
- If correct positioning at desk leaves feet unable to rest flat on the floor, a footrest can be used to support the feet.
- Taking regular breaks every 45–60 minutes to allow the body to move. This helps to escape fatigue and stress caused by repetitive movements and/or a sedentary environment (spending too much time seated or inactive).
Other types of work should be evaluated to create a workplace as ergonomic as possible to reduce the risk of injury, including repetitive-use injuries. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), “Implementing an ergonomic process has been shown to be eﬀective in reducing the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in industries as diverse as construction, food processing, oﬃce jobs, healthcare, beverage delivery and warehousing” (www.osha.gov).
What potential problems can you identify and correct to reduce the risk of these types of injuries to your employees? The efforts you make now will help to model prevention, reduce costs, and increase your company’s profits.
Carol Phillips is a national health and wellness expert, the award-winning author of 52 Simple Ways to Health, and the radio host of Ask Coach Carol. Her company, Health Design, helps businesses significantly reduce costs and increase productivity by prioritizing health, wellness, and safety practices. Health Design is a SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Recertification Provider. Based in Manchester, NH, she can be reached through her website at www.HealthDesignNH.com.