Poor ergonomics in the workplace can lead to fatigue, frustration, and costly injuries. A workplace ergonomics improvement process removes the risk factors that lead to musculoskeletal injuries and allows for improved performance and productivity. The 10 ergonomic principles are designed to maximize workplace safety and can be applied to both office and remote workers.
Defined as the science of fitting a workplace to the user’s needs, ergonomics aims to increase efficiency and productivity, optimize human well-being and boost performance. Proper ergonomics can prevent the majority of workplace injuries by adjusting tools to suit the user. The constant use of computers in the modern workplace has greatly increased the need for ergonomic solutions.
Traditional office furniture has encouraged stiff, fixed postures and very little movement throughout the working day. This can cause all sorts of problems such as repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. Desks, chairs, computer monitors, keyboards, flooring, and lighting all need to be assessed when creating an effective ergonomics program.
For more information on the benefits and risk factors of ergonomics read our article on designing a comfortable workplace.
There are two sub-fields of ergonomics, physical and cognitive. We are going to concentrate on the 10 principles of physical ergonomics. These principles can be applied in the workplace and in home offices for remote workers.
The 10 principles of ergonomics provide a method for knowing what to look for in finding smarter and healthier ways to work.
The number one ergonomic priority is establishing a good working posture at your workstation. A healthy spine follows an S-curve, and it’s important to maintain this curve while working to avoid back pain. If you work in a seated position, good lumbar support is key. Standing at the workstation is also recommended and potentially ergonomically sound, if you stand straight with your arms and wrists in a neutral position.
Tips: Adjust your workstation to allow you to keep your muscles in relaxed, neutral positions. Sit with your hands, wrists, and forearms straight, inline, and parallel to the floor. Your head should be level, facing forward with no turn to the left or right. When sitting or standing it can be helpful to use an ergonomic footrest.
This principle is referring to using your full body weight to move an object. Pushing, pulling, and lifting heavy items can strain your joints, creating the potential for a workplace injury. Avoid using excessive force and try to identify strategies that can lighten any loads you need to move.
Tips: Where necessary use mechanical assists, adjustable height workstations, powered equipment, and ergonomic tools to reduce excessive force.
While you are at your workstation, extend your arms and outline a semicircle in front of you. This is what is known as your reach envelope. The tools you use frequently should be inside your reach envelope. You can avoid unnecessary stretching and strain when you keep everything within easy reach.
Tips: Rearrange your work area so you are not reaching out for regularly used items. Adjusting your chair and armrests can also reduce fatigue.
Many of us have no idea that there is an ergonomically correct height our desks and office chairs should be set to. Having a workstation or desk that is too high or too low can strain your back, neck, and shoulders. A height-adjustable desk should be set to elbow height, so that when in use the forearm and upper arm are perpendicular with the elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
Tips: You can adjust height by adding or removing extensions to chairs and desks. Everyone’s body proportions are different. The important thing is to find a set-up that is comfortable for you.
Repeating the same movements over long periods can lead to conditions such as tendinitis, and carpal tunnel, so it’s important to think about your repetitive motions throughout the day and find ways to reduce excessive motion.
Tips: Change your position or the layout of your workstation to help you work more ergonomically. Perform an ergonomic assessment on your working area to ensure that you will be comfortable.
While you work you may need to perform tasks that require you to hold the same position for an extended period of time, this is known as static load. Static load can affect all parts of the body, such as the legs when standing for a long time. Static load can make your muscles tired and may eventually cause lasting discomfort or muscle strain.
Tips: Combat the fatigue caused by static load by adjusting the orientation of your workstation and repositioning your body. Maintaining proper posture is crucial. Use fixtures to eliminate holding on to items such as tools or pens for too long.
Contact stress occurs when the body is routinely pressed against a hard or sharp surface. You experience contact stress, for example, when the edge of a work surface digs into your forearm or wrist. Sometimes referred to as pressure points, these areas of contact can cause discomfort.
Tips: Place a pad or supportive cushion between your skin and the surface. If used, wrist/palm rests should be part of an ergonomically-coordinated computer workstation. If you are standing throughout the day you may consider anti-fatigue mats to help alleviate contact stress on your heels.
This principle is very simple, you need to have enough clearance in your work area for your head, knees, and feet.
Tips: If you sit down to work, adjust your chair to give yourself adequate legroom that does not impact your knees. If it helps you can use a footrest for added comfort. Remove any overhead obstructions to avoid bumping your head.
Whether you are sitting or standing, staying in one position for long periods of time is not healthy. Research has linked sitting down for hours at a time with several health concerns including high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol. With more of us than ever working from home, it is especially important to remember to move our bodies throughout the day. The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound.
Tips: Take breaks to exercise or stretch your muscles every 30 minutes and if necessary, set a timer to remind yourself to keep moving. Position your ergonomic workstation above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can move easily throughout the day.
Work environments vary greatly depending on industry and role, but no matter where you work you should consider your comfort levels. Take into account lighting, noise, and temperature. According to one piece of research, 25 percent of office workers said that the environment they worked in had a negative effect on their productivity levels.
Tips: Reduce glare or install better lighting in low-light areas to prevent eyestrain. Keep communal work areas at a comfortable temperature. Introduce noise-reducing ergonomic equipment where necessary.
Workplace ergonomics shouldn’t be an afterthought. It is important to implement an ergonomics improvement process to reduce the risk of injury and to improve employee well-being and productivity. Take the time to assess your own workstation, make sure that your set-up is ergonomically sound, and use the 10 principles to educate your team members on the benefits of ergonomic solutions.