The Importance of Ergonomics in Your Workplace

A discussion of small adjustments made for long term benefits, in order to provide a healthier and more functional workplace.

What is Ergonomics?

At its most simple, ergonomics is, “the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.” This will be elaborated on, but in overview ergonomic corrections can be engineer adjustments like changing the location of your monitor mounts or switching to a vertical mouse, or human adjustments like changing your seated posture and typing technique.

How Does This Impact You?

This practice is often utilized to redesign your office work spaces, a haven for repetitive motions and improperly adjusted furniture that can increase your risk of musculoskeletal injuries (MSI’s) such as:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Lower Back Injuries
  • Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)

OSHA has reported that some companies instituting ergonomic programs have seen benefits as impressive as a 75% reduction in work-related injuries over a two-year period, and more than a 85% reduction in associated lost work-days.

What Can You Do?

There are two types of adjustments that are most commonly made when ergonomically assessing an office space: Engineering and Human. We will review a traditional desk setup and offer some changes using both adjustments to make your environment work better for you.

The Chair

This is often the mainstay of office assessments, with most people spending much of their day seated. Here are some tips for what to look out for

  • Adjust your seat height so your knees are at 90 degrees
    • Keeping your knees at 90 degrees keeps your thighs parallel to the ground, a neutral body position.
    • An overly high chair forces you to exert energy throughout the day to maintain the equivalent of a very slight squat
    • Too low of a seat height causes a bend in the knee, reducing circulation to your lower legs which can cause leg pain long term.
  • Arm rests should allow your shoulders to be down and relaxed
    • Too low or high of shoulder position will cause muscular strain over time, as your muscles are overly extended or contracted
  • Seat Pan Type and Depth
    • Waterfall seat pans have a lip that falls away smoothly, so there is no hard edge pressing against your soft tissue to reduce blood flow
    • Seat pan depth has the same issue as your seating height, if it is too shallow you force your body to strain throughout the work day to maintain its’ position, while if it is too deep you risk cutting off blood flow
  • Lumbar Support
    • 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain at some point, reduce this risk by using a chair with proper lumbar support
    • Insure the lower curve of the seat back is vertically adjusted to match the curve of your lumber, you should not have to strain to maintain an upright posture while working
    • If your chair does not have the proper adjustments consider either a new chair, or acquiring a lumbar pillow for your current chair

The Desk

Think about everything on your desk and where it is placed. Could they be in more optimal spots? Is that office phone that you’ve never bothered to moved putting you at risk for shoulder injury every time you must awkwardly grab for it? Let’s talk about that.

  • Desk Height
    • For typing
      • When typing you want to make sure your keyboard tray is level with your arm rests (after they have been properly adjusted for your shoulder position) to keep your elbows parallel with the keyboard and in a neutral position
    • For writing
      • When writing on your desk surface you want to make sure that your chair has enough height to bring you level with the surface, if you are too low it will strain your wrists or shoulders as you adjust to the height difference to write and work.
  • Monitor height and placement
    • Monitors should have the mid-line of the screen level with your eyes, the goal is reduced neck movement to prevent strain from repetitive small motions
    • Your primary monitor should be centered in front of you, if you have more than one monitor they should be centered as much as possible so you can view all monitors by moving only your eyes
  • Phone placement
    • Desk phones should be within easy reach, without having to overly extend your arm or reach across your body
    • If you spend extensive amounts of time on the phone you should use a headset, or if in a private workspace the speaker phone. Never crane your neck against the phone to hold it in place
  • Keyboard and Mouse
    • Keyboards should be as level as possible to reduce reach distance when typing
    • Size your mouse correctly for your hand, they come in a variety of sizes and shapes
    • Move the mouse with your arm, not small pivot motions of the wrist
    • When using wrist rests make sure they are only being used as rests when not typing, they are not meant as permanent supports when typing or mousing

The Takeaway

Ergonomics is something that can be used in every phase of work to improve both your longevity working, but also your productivity. Whether in an office, industrial, or laboratory setting there are usually adjustments that can be made. Hopefully we provided you with some actionable tips to improve your personal ergonomics today!

Author: Sam Malusa

Assistant Site Manager/Lead Ergonomic Auditor

Frontier Scientific Partnerships

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