Ergonomic workstation safety
By: Mike Huss, Loss Control Consultant
A safe and healthy work environment is a productive work environment. All employers, regardless of their size or the nature of their business, should strive to create an ergonomically sound workspace for all employees—it's just good for business. Poor ergonomic practices can lead to lower productivity and in extreme cases physical injury, which is obviously bad for business. However, no matter how well an enterprise designs a workspace, it is the responsibility of each employee to make sure they are using good ergonomics at their own workstation. All the fancy chairs, desks, and equipment in the world is not going to help an employee who slouches or slumps awkwardly at their desk.
Here are 10 ways to create a healthy, productive, and ergonomic working environment. For a comprehensive look at ergonomics, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) website osha.gov.
- Good working posture - whether employees are working on the factory floor or in the corporate office, the number one ergonomic priority is establishing a good working posture at their workstation. They should be able to sit or stand in a neutral body position with a relaxed posture that requires no stressful angles or excessive reaching to complete tasks. Office workers should sit with hands, wrists, and forearms that are straight, inline, and parallel to the floor. The head should be level, facing forward with no turn to the left or right, and generally be in line with the torso. Standing at the workstation is also recommended and potentially ergonomically sound, assuming employees stand straight and their arms and wrists remain in the neutral position. Standing is a good counterpoint to sitting for long periods.
- Adjustable chairs and desks - to encourage good posture and the neutral body position, companies should purchase high-quality adjustable chairs, furniture, and equipment. The more positions a chair and desk can adjust to, the more they can be tailored to the individual using them. When it comes to ergonomics, one size most definitely does not fit all.
- Proper display height and distance - monitors and other display devices should be placed at eye level. Viewing a display should not require straining of the neck nor squinting of the eyes. Ergonomics dictates that individuals not be required to turn their neck to the left, right, up, or down to view a display. This principle applies to individuals with the conventional single monitor and power users employing multiple displays as well.
- Keyboard and mouse position - while often ergonomic afterthoughts, the proper keyboard and mouse configuration is just as important as posture when it comes to neutral body positioning. If individuals are reaching for the mouse at a bad angle or have to violate the inline parallel rule for elbows and wrists, they are going to lose neutral positioning. Reaching for input devices can lead to excessive fatigue, and after lengthy exposure, injury. Keyboards and mouse should be tailored for the person using them. This may require adjustable devices or perhaps different devices for different users. Flexibility is the key.
- Reducing repetitive movement - in an enterprise setting, most musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are caused by repetitive motion. Even if an individual applies perfect ergonomic principals, repeating the same motion over and over is going to cause stress and eventually lead to injury. The best way to combat this problem is by changing tasks. Doing something else and performing a different movement—even for a relatively short length of time—will reduce the potential for injury on the tissues under stress.
- Standing up and moving around - for office workers, this is perhaps the most important tip in the list—get up and move around. It is just that simple. Once an hour, workers should stand up and take a few minutes to walk down the hall, get a drink, and look out the window, anything that gets them out of their chair.
- Environmental setting - often overlooked when discussing ergonomics is the overall working environment. Proper lighting, temperature, humidity, and conveniences are ergonomic essentials. Lighting should not cause glare on computer screens, which means that many workplace settings should be equipped with softer light systems. Lighting that is good for reading printed material is not necessarily the best lighting for computer displays. Temperature settings are a bit trickier since each individual preference differs, but every attempt should be made to maintain a temperature that is comfortable for as many people as possible. To prevent MSD injuries in particular, colder temperatures should be avoided.
- Looking around - looking at a computer display all day long can cause noticeable eye fatigue. To reduce the stress on the eyes, workers should systematically look away from the monitor every 20 minutes or so to focus on something more than 20 feet away. The clock on the wall, the tree outside the window—anything will do. Changing focus to something in the distance will cause the eyes to adjust and give the close-in focus muscles a chance to relax.
- Ergonomic accessories
Over the years, office equipment suppliers have developed ergonomic accessories to help individuals improve their workspaces. Smaller individuals may benefit from a footrest when workstation desks are not adjustable, for example. Those who are required to talk on a phone all day will require a headset to free their hands and save their neck. Individuals required to read printed documents are likely to need a document holder, preferably adjustable, and perhaps task lighting as well.
- Getting help - when all else fails, individuals and organizations trying to establish sound ergonomics practices should seek professional help. Employees should talk to a manager or supervisor to request adjustable equipment or accessories that can help them create a more ergonomic workstation.