From initial design through to commissioning and operations, following ergonomic principles can help reduce the rate of workplace injuries.

So why are so many people still being injured today?

The past decade has seen a dramatic shift in the way we work. We are spending more time sitting and being sedentary. New technologies such as instant messaging, e-mail and on-line faxing are significant contributing factors. Though on the surface this shift may seem insignificant from a health standpoint, coupled with the introduction of activity-based working (ABW) and hot desking, there could be real and substantial health risks for the average worker.

Conventional office spaces have allowed for a sense of ownership with people able to set up their workstations in a manner that is best suited to their individual needs both work-wise and ergonomically. odern and evolving workplaces need to be flexible and must be able to adapt to the growth, movement and changes in operations and technology. Flexible workplaces need to be responsive to the needs of the individual as well as the employer, allowing options as to when, where and how tasks are performed.

In the ABW/hot desking office, flexibility is not only facilitated by the physical design and layout of the working environment. Mobile devices allow individuals to work on and be located according to the project they are involved in at any given time, or even on a task-by-task basis as necessary.

As such, there is a greater likelihood ergonomic/posture-related injuries through poor workplace design. Workplace design must take into account what type of work is being done and where and when it is undertaken. Each solution should aim to accommodate the individual needs and the work style preferences of staff.

Products need to be adjustable within safe operating ranges, and must be designed to minimise the risk of untrained users setting them up inappropriately. Given that the vast majority of users know very little about ergonomics or proper workstation set-up, experience has shown that if the adjustments on a piece of equipment are too cumbersome or complicated, then the likelihood of people using them is significantly reduced. The ergonomic benefit is consequently negated despite the presence of these features.

With some attention to basic principles, employers can enhance their employees’ comfort and productivity while also reducing their risk of injuries and absenteeism.

The first defence against workplace injuries is to create a working environment that positively influences behaviour and therefore minimizes risk. Four key elements with which the user will interact on a daily basis should be closely assessed:

  • The Workstation and chair – the design of a workstation and chair should be directed by a number of factors: the range of people who may use them, the tasks those people perform, and the type of equipment to be accommodated. It is essential that office seating is comfortable, appropriate to the task being undertaken and easy for the operator to adjust.
  • The keyboard and mouse – the way in which these devices are used needs to be carefully considered, as repetitive use over an extended period can lead to discomfort and in some instances serious chronic injury.
  • The monitor and documents – monitors may need to be raised above desk height to reduce postural strain to the user’s spine and neck. Reading source documents resting on the surface of the desk for prolonged periods may cause neck and shoulder strains through the adoption of poor posture.
  • Lighting and glare – in general, good lighting should enable people to easily view their work and environment without the need to strain their eyes.

These elements are interactive and must be considered holistically to ensure effective workstations are developed. The way a person sits affects how they will use their keyboard and mouse, and how they view their computer screen or documents.

The bottom line is that good ergonomic design will have a positive impact on an organisation’s bottom line. Successful implementation of ergonomic design principles are characterized not only by a reduction in the number of workers’ compensation claims, but decreased costs per claim and increased productivity. When people are healthier, productivity goes up and costs go down.

By: Andrew Angelides