The Importance of Ergonomics in the Workplace

Updated: Jul 25

All jobs, whether sedentary or active, have ergonomic value that can negatively impact a person’s health. Ergonomics are often overlooked and can be detrimental to one’s health, especially because ergonomic injuries may not be as obvious as a fall or chemical burn [2].

Author: Serena Amarakoon

What are Ergonomics?

Ergonomics can be defined as the modification and adaptation of one’s working environment to fit their needs and eliminate risk of injury and discomfort [1]. The tools in question depend on the environment a person works in, whether this be a stationary desk job where the person is staring at the computer screen for hours, or a more active job in which they’re lifting heavy equipment, on their feet for hours, or a mixture. All jobs have ergonomic factors that can affect workers and their job performance.

Why are Ergonomics Important?

All jobs, whether sedentary or active, have ergonomic value that can negatively impact a person’s health. Ergonomics are often overlooked and can be detrimental to one’s health, especially because ergonomic injuries may not be as obvious as a fall or chemical burn [2]. Poor ergonomics can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, also known as WMSDs [1]. WMSDs are serious disorders that can permanently impair the ability to complete tasks, causing pain and weakness [1]. Repeated stress injuries (RSI) can also occur, in which the damaged joint or muscle continuously brings back pain on numerous occasions [1]. RSIs are common in joints such as the wrist, as well as back and neck muscles [1]. Examples of WMSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome and ruptured spinal discs [2]. When musculoskeletal diseases occur, they can decrease productivity and cause missed work time, not to mention the burden of increased health care costs, reduced income, and potentially increased pain and suffering for both the worker and their families [2]. Ideally, ergonomics should be an important consideration in the workplace in order to minimize chances of developing related conditions [2]. In order to accomplish this, it is crucial for people to feel comfortable in their workspace [1].

Ergonomic Solutions in Sedentary Jobs

People who have desk jobs often do not realize how sitting for many hours a day with ergonomically-unsound equipment can take a strain on their health [1]. With a slouched posture, leaning forward, and staring at a computer screen, back aches and neck strains are bound to happen, possibly leading to serious damage [1]. The good news is that these aches and pains are easy to eliminate. One thing that can help fix bad posture is a good office chair — the chair must be at the proper height, with feet flat on the ground [3]. The chair should also be padded for good back support and have armrests so joints such as the shoulders and elbows can relax [3]. The computer monitor should be within arm’s length, with the screen at eye level [3]. Lowering the brightness of the screen can help with headaches and unnecessary eye damage [3]. The area below the desk should be clear so that the worker can stretch their feet comfortably [3]. Office supplies and other items that are used often should be within reaching distance, reducing the amount of times a person stretches forward to grab something [3]. Standing desks are also becoming more popular, as they reduce the amount of time workers have to stay sitting [1].

A study by Aghilinejad et al. examined semiconductor workers who dealt with electric circuits while sitting for 7-8 hours daily [4]. Since this task is technical and requires complete accuracy and precision, the workers were observed to constantly lean forward in a slouched posture, straining their necks. The researchers gave the workers a pair of magnification loupes to see if their vision was more precise, therefore enabling workers to lean back, fix their posture and avoid straining their neck [4]. This intervention allowed their postures to improve as their bodies remained in a neutral position longer, resulting in less strain [4]. This goes to show that with the proper tools in their appropriate working environment, bad posture habits can be corrected, and workers are less likely to have musculoskeletal problems in the future.

Ergonomic Improvements in Physically-Demanding Jobs

Physically-demanding jobs can take a toll on a worker’s body; with the countless hours of bending, lifting heavy items, and walking on your feet, it is sure to cause back problems and other serious issues in the long-term if not managed. Examples of jobs that require constant physical labour include construction workers, nurses, sports/fitness trainers, mechanics, etc.

Similarly to what was discussed for sedentary jobs, having the proper equipment at-hand can make all the difference between WMSDs, RDIs, and a healthy occupational experience. Do you need to life heavy objects? Consider wearing a supportive brace/belt that can support your posture. The design of your workspace would also play an integral role because ergonomics is also about environmental safety — occupational hazards such as constantly loud noises can be blocked by sound-blocking headphones, while wires and mats can be taped securely to the floor to avoid tripping, for example.

In addition, warming up with some light stretches before and after each physically-demanding task helps to increase blood flow throughout the body which relaxes muscles, making them more flexible and less injury-prone [5]. Examples of warm-ups include neck rolls, chin to chests, rolling the shoulders forwards and backwards, squats, and touching fingers to toes, among others [5]. Another way to keep good ergonomic skills is to get good rest every night. Investing in a good mattress, pillow, and darkening shades will assure a proper 8 hours rest with no discomfort, as well as proper back support [5].

In Conclusion

Ergonomic considerations are meant to be made by everyone at the workplace. It is important to speak to your workplace occupational health and safety team when you feel that working conditions are unsafe based on your occupation. Consider keeping your family doctor informed about any new pains and aches you experience so you can engage in screening procedures before matters escalate.

Editors

Milica Ristovski, Rhea Verma

Designer

Web design by Majd Al-Aarg

Additional Credits

Cover photo provided by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

References

  1. What is ergonomics and why is it important? [Internet]. Dartmouth (NS): Office Interiors; 1991. [updated 2019 Sept 26; cited 2021 Feb 20]. Available: https://www.officeinteriors.ca/blog/what-is-ergonomics/

  2. Stevenson G [Internet]. London (ON): Occupational Safety Group Inc.; 2020. 7 simple tips for improving workplace ergonomics; [updated 2018 Nov 30; cited 2021 Feb 20]. Available: https://osg.ca/7-simple-tips-for-improving-workplace-ergonomics/

  3. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Rochester (MN): Mayo Clinic; 1998. Office ergonomics: Your how-to guide; [updated 2019 Apr 27; cited 2021 Feb 20]. Available: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169

  4. Aghilinejad M, Azar N, Ghasemi M, Dehghan N, Mokamelkhah E. An ergonomic intervention to reduce musculoskeletal discomfort among semiconductor assembly workers. WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation [Internet]. 2016 Oct [cited 2021 Feb 20];54(2):445-450. Available from: 10.3233/WOR-162325

  5. Kimber DiVincenzo [Internet]. Grand Rapids (MI): Work Fit; 2018. Our hospital heroes need help: Ergonomic improvements that keep nurses saving lives; [updated 2019 Dec 5; cited 2021 Feb 20]. Available: https://www.work-fit.com/blog/ergonomic-improvements-that-keep-nurses-saving-lives

#ergonomics #musculoskeletal #OccupationalTherapy #workplace

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