• 7 October 2014

Ergonomics: Keeping your body safe in the workplace

If you’ve ever come home from work with a stiff neck or sore back from working at a keyboard or sitting too long in an uncomfortable chair, a workplace ergonomics programme could benefit you. The University of Michigan Health System defines ergonomics as ‘the study of how people interact with their activities and their environment’, with goals including improving health and safety, preventing injuries and improving productivity.

What is ergonomics management?

Attention to ergonomics helps people feel more comfortable in the work environment by reducing or eliminating awkward and unsafe positions, movements and environmental issues such as lighting, work surface and noise levels. How workstations are set up, the kinds of chairs people use, the desktop or floor work surface and elements of the work environment all affect worker comfort and productivity.

Even adjustments to the amount and type of light that comes in through windows can prevent neck, back and eye strain resulting from working at a computer screen with glare or working in dim light.

How to get started

If you are tasked with starting an ergonomics management programme, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that an effective programme includes showing management commitment to addressing problems in the work environment, involving employees in identifying and solving ergonomic problems, offering training and gathering data on problematic jobs and work conditions.

The HSE agrees that management commitment and employee involvement are important to a successful ergonomics management programme.

The European Agency on Safety and Health at Work advises that effective implementation requires a written programme that includes employee involvement and regular programme review and evaluation.

Effective implementation

Guidelines for effective ergonomic programme implementation from the European Agency on Safety and Health at Work include regular programme review and evaluation with clear procedures and processes to evaluate progress and success. It reports that 62% of workers are exposed a quarter of the time or more to repetitive hand arm movements, 46% are exposed to painful or tiring positions and 35% are carrying or moving heavy loads.

Two types of ergonomic solutions include:

The European Agency on Safety and Health at Work outlines good ergonomic practices to reduce hazards and risks that include:

  • Back support when sitting
  • Feet fully supported by the floor on a footrest
  • Computer screens set at eye level and placed at arm’s length
  • Adjustable chairs
  • Tools and equipment placed easily within reach

Additionally, some other needs include:

  • Adequate lighting to reduce eye strain and avoid glare
  • Low noise levels need to be maintained to protect against hearing loss and stress
  • Comfortable environmental temperatures must be maintained
  • Pauses and micro-pauses to allow workers to change positions, stretch fingers, hands arms and torsos, perform different tasks, stand up and walk around, and blink and focus eyes away from the work.