What is Ergonomics and Why is it Important?

Ergonomics Furniture

Man clutching his back due to an ergonomic injury/back pain

There is a lot of discussion about office ergonomics these days. As sedentary jobs become more and more common, an increasing volume of research is being done about the effect these types of occupations can have on people’s bodies.

The concept of ergonomics is often seen as a vague idea that many people struggle to relates to their workstation, office or organization. Even more importantly, they don’t know how office ergonomics can affect the areas of life outside of work.

So, what is ergonomics and why is it important to your business?

What is Ergonomics?

 “The goal of ergonomics is to fit the task to the individual not the individual to the task.” 
                          Jeffrey E. Fernandez, Ph.D. PE, CPE & Michael Goodman, MD, MPH

Simply put, ergonomics is the study of the interaction between people and the tools they use. More precisely, how employees and their tools interact.

People who study ergonomics also look for ways to improve the design of the aforementioned tools to enhance their user experience.

When looking at an office environment, there are countless areas where ergonomics could be relevant. Everything from the chairs people sit on, the desks they use or their posture when typing is a component of ergonomics.

The ultimate goal of studying ergonomics is to find improvements in the tools people use while working every single day.  People aren’t productive when they are uncomfortable or in pain, but with the right tools, we can help them feel better at work and be more productive, happier, and healthier.

Why is Ergonomics Important?

Poor ergonomics can lead to chronic repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) such as carpal tunnel, back, neck or joint pain.  In fact, improper ergonomics is one of the most significant workplace risks faced by office workers.

A study by the Norwegian State Institute found that, after the common cold, muscular soreness was the second most common cause of absenteeism at work.  They also found that if improvements were made to workstation design and seating, back-related absenteeism was halved and rates of employees leaving the business or going on long-term leave plummeted.  

Separate studies conducted in the United States found that after ergonomic interventions at State Farm Insurance and Blue Cross-Blue Shield employee productivity increased by 15 percent and 4.4 percent respectively.  For an SME with approximately 50 employees, that is an increase in productivity equivalent to hiring two to eight more full-time staff.  Yet another study from researchers at the University of Miami found that the keystroke rate for data-entry tasks improved by 5 percent after workers were moved to an ergonomically correct workspace.  

An ergonomic injury can harm far more than just an individual’s productivity, however.  At home, they may be confined to the bed or couch while missing out on activities with friends and family.  What kind of workplace culture will form over time if your team feels they are missing out on aspects of their home life because of a workplace ergonomic injury?

Ergonomic injuries clearly have a significant impact on both the individual and the organization as a whole.

80 percent of people will experience back pain over the course of their lives. Additionally, back pain is one of the most common reasons employees miss work. How do lost person-hours affect your workplace?  If you could make improvements to your office ergonomics and cut down on sick days or disability claims, what would that do for productivity? Ergonomics isn’t just about pain; it’s an issue that can also affect the bottom line.

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Identifying Ergonomic Issues

Ok, so you understand that ergonomic injuries are bad, but how do you identify potential ergonomic issues before they become an injury? 

While office jobs can vary wildly from programming to data entry to marketing and everything in-between, there are some similarities among most office jobs.

People who work in an office environment tend to spend a lot of their day sitting in one spot. While sitting doesn’t seem like it would cause injury, poorly designed chairs and improperly adjusted furniture can cause strain on the back, neck, and shoulders.  In fact, poor quality task chairs are one of the top three ergonomic hazards we find in our customers’ offices.

Typing is another task that just about every office dweller tackles daily, and another common cause of chronic pain if their workstation is not configured ergonomically. Correctly adjusted armrests and simple tools like keyboard trays can go a long way in helping prevent injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Providing the Ergonomic Tools to Get the Job Done

In addition to creating best practices and standards for your team, you should ensure your employees have the right tools to be both comfortable and productive throughout the day. 

Sit to stand desks are becoming incredibly popular in modern office environments.  These desks give employees the ability to seamlessly move from sitting to standing without interrupting their work in any significant way. Experts recommend that employees spend at least ten minutes of every thirty minutes standing or walking. A sit to stand desk makes this easy.

Ergonomic chairs are also a great solution to help employees feel great while working. When looking for ergonomic chairs, you should seek out chairs that provide adequate support for the lower back. The design of the chair should help the muscles in the back relax as employees sit and work.

Do you have more questions about ergonomics?  We’ve dedicated an entire section of our website to answering the ergonomic questions our customers ask most often. 

Cory Porteous
Director of Marketing & Inbound Business Development
Office Interiors

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