Your neck. Your back. Your feet and your crackling knees. Many of us only notice our bodies when it stops us. We finally notice pain, strain, or fatigue. Proactive action to accommodate our bodies is the best defense against those problems, especially at work, where repetitive motion can lead to cumulative trauma disorder or musculoskeletal disorder. Useful concepts like ergonomics make an important approach in the good health toolkit.
An office worker hears “ergonomics” and thinks of an optimal desktop setup. But office-based employees are not the only people ergonomics applies to. Physical ergonomics applies to every person in every profession and activity – even home hobbies. So the next time someone tells you all about the ergonomics of keyboards, screens, clickable mice, and chairs, remember that it extends well beyond the desk. The goal of ergonomics is safe and efficient interaction with design, according to Merriam-Webster.
In honor of the global applicability of ergonomics, we’ve collected four examples of ergonomic concerns at work to consider. Not everyone will need to consider every issue, but we think it’s important to expand the understanding of this valuable workplace safety concept.
Eye Strain in the Laboratory
As they peer into a microscope, laboratory workers have their own areas of ergonomic concern. Whether they are veterinarians, medical technologists, or scientists specialized as microbiologists. Immunologists, chemists, phlebotomists, and pathologists, like those ‘ists mentioned above, may heed advice tailored to their unique needs as lab-based professionals.
Like everyone else, laboratory employees should not slump. According to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, anyone in a lab should look into an eyepiece in the upright position, whether sitting or standing. What about those little pipettes? They’re advised to use the lightest touch possible and switch hands, making sure to keep everything within arm’s reach and not awkwardly repetitively overextending or reaching into awkward positions.
Physiotherapists, Massage Therapists and Table Height
Therapists working with other physical bodies provide crucial relief and medical guidance for people around the world. To protect their bodies while they work, these professionals must be aware of the best practices around body mechanics and more. Industrial Health, published by Japan’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, shared an experimental study on “Effects of different bed heights on the physical burden of physiotherapists during manual therapy.” This study found much less “lumbar burden” when a patient’s bed was positioned at a comfortable working height for the physiotherapist versus a low bed height.
Similarly, the American Massage Therapy Association suggested starting a table at half your height, then adjusting it upwards until the therapist is most comfortable. This posture helps the back and avoids undue wrist flexion, they said.
Cornell University’s Ergonomics Web says laptops pose a special challenge because of the attached keyboard and screen. Optimal ergonomic setup includes a screen positioned so the upright user’s gaze naturally lands about 2” from the top without having to bend or elevate their neck or chin. A keyboard, however, should sit so that the user’s bent arms extend slightly lower than a right angle when their fingers tap the keys. With the popularity of remote work and the portability of laptops for users who need to work in many locations, how can this challenge be met? Either an external keyboard or screen may be the best solution since tilting the laptop lifts the screen. This will tilt the keyboard at an awkward angle for typing. These tips help prevent eye, neck, wrist, and finger strain.
Lifting Heavy Objects
“Lift from your knees, not your back” is a common refrain, but that advice only works for certain weights and loads. Appropriate advice for lifting heavy objects is crucial. Anyone who has ever had to lift a heavy tray, plant, bucket, keg, mailbox, or piece of furniture knows the exertion required. The Centers for Disease Control advises avoiding any unnecessary load weight, making sure the path for moving the object is clear, and using lifts when possible. This type of heavy lifting activity can take place even in places you wouldn’t expect, from restaurants to offices, so it’s important to have a realistic plan for how to safely move objects when required.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) can be reduced in number and severity by implementing sound ergonomic practices for employees. Don’t guess which work situation would be an ergonomics concern. Stave off long-term health consequences and productivity killers by encouraging management support, identifying problem areas, and implementing solutions first. The benefits can add up in retained employees, lowered worker’s compensation costs, less absenteeism, and fewer headaches, literally and figuratively. Your neck, your back. You need those. Let’s keep them in the best shape possible by making workplace ergonomics work at work. Contact us today to learn how you can incorporate ergonomics solutions in your workplace.