Every year UK businesses lose nearly 20 million working days through ill-health. Over half of these are due to back pain, joint and repetitive strain injuries (RSI) some of which can be the result of poor ergonomics in the workplace.
For example, back problems are the most common form of ill health at work and one of the main reasons employees seek advice from Occupational Physiotherapists. In 2003/04 4.9 million working days were lost due to back pain caused or made worse by work.
Ergonomics is all about designing equipment and devices to fit the human body, its movements and its cognitive abilities.
Working with computer screens can lead to upper limb disorders and back pain as well as stress and eye strain. If workstations are not set up appropriately and if the users do not sit correctly (and take breaks) they are at risk of pain and discomfort. This imposes a heavy cost on employers with lost productivity, sickness absence and staff turnover.
It is often the way in which equipment is used rather that the equipment itself that gives rise to these problems. Most can be prevented by re-organising the work station and ensuring workers know how to use the equipment correctly.
Taking time to priorities ergonomic assessments and making sure equipment is suitable avoids a lot of injuries and conditions, such as carpal tunnel and back pain. So take five minutes out of your daily routine today as a bit of “me time” to set things up as they should be. Already done it? That’s great but don’t forget that a lot of workspaces are used by hot deskers these days so it is important to recheck from time to time.
Start by asking yourself whether your desk is set up to suit you.
#1: Are you sitting comfortably?
It’s odd to think that a lot of back problems are actually caused by sitting in a chair and doing nothing. That’s because the chair is not supporting the back properly. If you are working in an office you need an adjustable chair. Your feet should be able to touch the floor and your lower back should feel supported. In the Office: Keep your back straight and your work close to you. DO NOT SLOUCH. Do not sit on the edge of your chair. Make sure the chair supports your back in a good position. Take time to adjust your chair to suit you now. It could literally stop you from suffering regular muscular aches and pains and also the need for you to see a physiotherapist.
#2: Don’t wear the killer heels every day
It’s really important to wear good supportive shoes when standing. High heels every day can and do place a strain on your back and cause poor alignment of the spine. Do your feet a favour and give them a rest now and again. Keep the killer heels for a special event.
#3: Remember good posture
Whether you are using the telephone or carrying something heavy, try to keep your posture in check. Back injuries are commonplace when twisting and lifting, so it’s important to align your spine correctly. It just takes one awkward move to cause a major problem and a resulting back pain issue. Sometimes a job may have been designed in such a way that employees are stuck in one position for several hours. Look out in your workplace for this type of repetitive work which is likely to cause a problem and think about how it could be done differently. Getting headphones for telephone calls is just one simple solution to trying to balance a handset in the crook of your neck – which can result in muscular pain.
#4: Make sure everyone has had ergonomics training
All employees should receive basic awareness training in ergonomics. Dependent on your workplace this could be in the form of workstation setup or Manual Handling Training . The importance of planning before moving a heavy item is another good reason for training employees and is imperative in heavy industry environments. This helps avoid harming yourself or your coworker by being aware of the issues and doing these things correctly.
#5: Take a break from life in the fast lane
People are often rushing to meet a deadline or simply trying to stay afloat when overloaded with things to do. This results in fast repetitive movements of the wrists leading to repetitive strain injury. It can happen as much in an office as a factory and results from the muscles not having time to relax properly. So do yourself a favour and make sure you plan your work to be able to operate at a good speed but don’t try and beat a world record here. Employers might like to reflect on this because taking time to do something well means less mistakes and less work related injuries.
Ergonomics should be the new buzz word at work. With the right advice and guidance, it’s a great way of getting everyone to take responsibility for their workplace health.
[DISCLAIMER: Contents of this article are for general information purposes and is not meant to replace physiotherapy or medical consultation.]
What did you do to slow down a bit today? How did it feel? How did it affect the quality of your work?