March 10, 2014

The Importance Of Ergonomics At Work

Ergonomics at work

Ergonomics is simply the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. If we want to truly understand how to make people the most productive and efficient as possible we need to set up the right environment for them to work in. It’s kind of like going outside in the winter time without wearing a hat or gloves, it’s silly.

We should all be trying to set up our environment to handle the way we as humans are meant to live. I think it’s common knowledge that humans weren’t meant to sit for 8+ hours, nor were they meant to stand for that long either. It’s all about balance, and using the right equipment.

There has been a ton of literature on posture, stretching, exercising, stand up desks, how lighting affects your mood, etc…these are all things that contribute to how efficient you are.

Let’s go one by one through each of these, and talk about some of the things you can do to improve and promote ergonomics at work.

Sitting Posture

The average adult now spends 50-70% of the day sitting at work.

Of course over time, this has a nasty effect on your back. Pay attention to your posture while you’re sitting, and make sure to invest in a good chair (we’ll talk more about chairs in a minute).

A good tip is to keep your computer monitor at eye level, to avoid having to bend down (like when you use a laptop) or look up. Also, to avoid any strain on your spine, try and make sure there is something in between your back and the chair.

Keep your knees at a 90 degree angle because when you start to bend them in, it leads to you bending over.

Choosing The Right Mouse

Working in front of a computer all day means you’re probably holding a mouse all day. The type of problems that can come from this are pretty scary, with carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and nerve damage being a few of the big ones.

Not only is finding a good mouse important, but the way you hold it, and more specifically the way your wrist is bent can change everything. This also ties back to posture, but making sure your elbows are the things doing the movements, and not your wrist is important.

If you’re looking for a great mouse to invest in, check out these great recommendations from Lifehacker.

Choosing The Right Keyboard

Again, Lifehacker has some great recommendations on good keyboards to use, but choosing a keyboard is important when thinking about wrist injuries and carpal tunnel.

Again, make sure the positioning is correct, and that the keyboard is not too high, or too low, to avoid having to bend your arms in weird ways.

Similar to what I was saying with the mouse, your elbows should be positioned close to your body, but not too close that you’re straining your shoulders. I’d also recommend checking out the Wikipedia page about ergonomic keyboards.

Taking Frequent Breaks

An easy way to avoid sitting in the same position for too long is to take frequent breaks, and release some of the tension that your muscles have been holding while you were sitting. There are plenty of easy stretches that you could do, here are a few:

  • Shoulder blade squeeze: Stand up, and squeeze your shoulder blades together, trying to make them touch. Hold for 5 seconds, then release.
  • Crunches: Any exercise that you do for your core, will help to strengthen your back, so these are great ones to do.
  • Pushups: Very powerful, and very simple to do in an office.
  • Superman: Lie down on your stomach, and lift your arms and feet off the ground, as if you were Superman flying through the air. Not only is this great for your core and back, but it’s pretty fun too ;)
  • Neck and Shoulder: Tuck your head in, and place your chin on your chest, and then move your head slowly from right to left. Repeat for about 15 seconds.
  • Lunges: Step out with your right leg and bend your knees so it looks like you’re down on one knee. Push off the leg that’s in front and then put the other leg forward. Your coworkers might think you’re walking funny, but you’re actually doing some great exercise.
  • Palm Stretch: Interlock your fingers, and face your palms away from your body. Push out and stretch your arms. Hold for 5 seconds, and repeat 8 times.

Different Ergonomic Chairs

Choosing the right chair is an important part of setting up an ergonomic work station.

Some of the employees at our office choose to sit on an exercise ball as a way to engage their core while working.

I personally don’t like it, because there’s no back support, but to each their own. The important things that every office chair must have are:

  • Adjustable height: We want the knees to be angled at 90 degrees, and for our feet to be firmly planted on the floor.
  • Unlimited Recline: Some chairs have locks on how far you can recline your seat, that’s not cool. We should be able to recline as far as we want.
  • Adjustable armrests: It’s important to have your arms in a good position relative to the keyboard and mouse.

Most chairs have all this stuff by default, but if you don’t, upgrade to a newer, better chair today. For a really detailed guide on how to choose a proper chair, check out this great article.

Using A Standup Desk

Of course the most obvious way to fix sitting all day is to stand, which is why I guess standing desks have become so popular in the last few years.

However, it’s important to note that standing all day is also terrible for you. Ideally, you would have a desk that can adjust to support sitting and standing, but those are a little more expensive.

I would recommend (keep in mind I’m not a doctor) standing for 2-3 hours in your day, and the rest spend sitting properly.

Stand up desks can be great for your productivity, and they also don’t have to be crazy expensive, there are tons of really cheap options.  There is also evidence that it provides some psychological benefits for employees. In case you are thinking of buying some, WireCutter provided a really thorough review on standing desks.

Lastly, watch this funny video about stand up desks.

Setting Up Your Workstation

This is the key to the whole thing.

If you want to make sure that you can do all of the things that I mentioned earlier, like keeping your knees bent, feet on the ground, monitor at eye level, elbows properly aligned, etc…you need to build the proper workstation and set up the proper work environment.

If you’re interested in building a custom workstation yourself, you can follow this helpful guide. I’d also recommend looking at this tool, that will help you plan the exact measurements that you need based on your height and other factors that you can preselect.

Some important things to keep in mind for an ideal workspace, is to have things that you use frequently (keyboard, mouse, etc..) within reach at all times, and things that you use rarely out of your way, to get rid of the clutter.

If you’re really serious about this, it’s recommended to use a checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything.

Remember that healthy employees will be more productive, and employee engagement overall will improve.

Your thoughts on Ergonomics At Work?

Do you believe that ergonomics at work can be effective for your business and employee engagement? Let me know your thoughts on twitter @Officevibe.

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