When it comes to ergonomics in the workplace, minor issues can quickly become significant, painful, and expensive problems. According to OSHA, one-third of all workers’ compensation costs are from ergonomic injuries and cost almost 20 billion a year. A solution to this problem is the practice of good ergonomics in the workplace. It doesn’t take much to improve your ergonomics a small amount, and that’s often enough to see positive changes in your posture and pain levels. So, whether you’re ready to invest in a whole new workstation and ergonomic accessories, or you have a towel or two and a cushion to play with, you’ll find the following ergonomic principles an excellent place to start.
The natural shape of a healthy spine is an S. When your posture is relaxed, and there is minimal stress being put on your muscles and joints, that’s what is called neutral posture. Good ergonomics encourages work done with neutral, or as close to neutral as possible, posture. When your muscles are relaxed, and joints aren’t being over or under-extended, then you can move with much less risk of injury. A good rule of thumb for neutral posture is right, relaxed angles at the ankles, knees, hips, and elbows. If in doubt, choose a posture that is the most comfortable. Practical ways to support neutral posture include adjusting your office chair and using supportive cushions where necessary, such as at the low back and wrists.
One of the main ergonomic principles that many people are surprised by is that of taking breaks. And not just any kind of break, but a stretching break. This allows your muscles and bones to come back into alignment if they were out and will enable you to restore nerve and blood flow to your extremities. If you’re typing or gripping a power tool, stretch out your hands, wrists, and shoulders. A good stretch for your wrists is to hold your hand out in a stop sign motion and spread your fingers. Slowly slide your fingers down into a fist. Repeat 5-10 times on each hand. Another good stretch is for your calves. Place your hands on something sturdy and step back with one foot. Press your heel towards the floor to stretch your calf. Do this a few times on each side.
Have Items in Arms Reach
Whatever tools you use during your day, try to have them within an easy arm’s reach…without twisting or bending. Excessive pressure on the back caused by twisting or turning (or worse, both at the same time) can strain muscles, leading to a greater risk of injury. And it’s also a matter of repetition—which is essential to avoid. The basic idea is to make any motion you’re doing over and over as safe for your body as possible. One way to do that is to create a structure that allows for commonly used items to be easily accessible. Or, you can prioritize the things you use most often and keep them closest to your computer. Whenever possible, when reaching or bending for items in harder-to-reach areas, use good ergonomics like squatting instead of bending over.
Work at the Correct Height
Working at the correct height is key for health at any job. For desk jobs, you have a few options for working at the correct height. The first is an adjustable chair, or adjusting your chair. For example, if your chair doesn’t adjust and your desk is too high, you can use a cushion or folded towel to lift your seat. (If this lowers your knees below your hips, use something to prop up your feet until your thighs are parallel to the ground.)
If your desk isn’t adjustable, one option is to raise it with desk footrests or even pieces of wood. While this may take more effort than an adjustable desk, it will make a massive difference in your workplace’s ergonomics.
As much as possible, avoid repetitive motions, or take stretching breaks as often as possible. Try to make your equipment layout as efficient as possible so that you can lower the number of repetitive motions. If you can’t avoid repetitive movements, reducing force and awkward positioning becomes essential. So, for example, if you have thousands of words to type, you want to use as little force on the keyboard as possible and try to work from a neutral posture with plenty of support for your wrists and stretching breaks. Or, if you’re bending and lifting, try to give yourself the room you need, and use good form and a back brace.
Reduce Static Load and Fatigue
This involves using as little force as possible when doing everyday tasks. Examples include typing gently and not gripping your pen too tightly. Fatigue in desk jobs can come from overworked muscle groups trying to hold a body in a poorly aligned position. Whenever possible, use cushions or ergonomic tools to support good, neutral posture while working. This is especially important if you are working long hours.
Reduce Pressure Points
When determining the correct fit for an office chair one of your main goals is to reduce pressure points. Pressure points can happen when the spine is C shaped, if the thighs are angled downwards away from the hips, or if the arms are on the edge of a desk. These pressure points can cut off nerve and blood flow, contributing to injury risk. You may also feel numbness or tingling in the affected limb or area.
Create a Comfortable Workspace
In the end, your comfort will be your best guide. Whenever possible, make your workspace as comfortable as possible. This includes essentials like lighting and cushions. Poor lighting (too bright or too dim) can cause eye strain, and a poorly padded office chair can create pressure points. Also consider non-essentials like good speakers for music, an essential oil diffuser (if your co-workers don’t mind), plants, and self-massage tools like tennis balls or a foam roller. Anything that reduces your stress, like healthy snacks, also makes the list. If you’re comfortable while working, that means you’re practicing sound principles of ergonomics.
Workplace Ergonomics with BHS
If you want to revolutionize your workplace with the productivity and motivation that comes from working pain-free, you want to work with us here at BHS. BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS) has been helping workplaces practice good ergonomics and preventing workplace injury for over twenty years. We provide easy-to-implement best practices that work with any work environment and don’t require expensive equipment. To learn more about the principles of ergonomics from us here at BHS and how we can help make your team happier, healthier, and more productive while you save money on healthcare costs, please reach out to us today.