How to implement an ergonomic workspace

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ergonomic workspace

People spend many hours a day in front of a computer without thinking about the effect it has on their bodies. Using your computer puts physical stress on your body, such as extending your wrist, slouching, sitting without a foot support and straining your eyes to look at your monitor. These activities can lead to Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTD) or Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), which impacts your health and wellness.

Ergonomics is the scientific study which attempts to reduce strain, fatigue and injuries by improving product design and workspace arrangement.

What is an RSI?

A Repetitive Strain Injury is the result of the forceful or repetitive use of your limbs, producing damaged muscle tendons and nerves. Tendonitis is the most common example of an RSI, while Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the more rare and serious disorder. RSI’s occur more frequently in occupations that require repetitive movement such as computer users in an office environment, musicians or lab workers.


What are the symptoms of an RSI?

  • Fatigue or lack of endurance
  • Weakness in the hands or forearms
  • Tingling, numbness, or a loss of sensation
  • Heaviness in the limbs (your hands feel like dead weight)
  • Lack of control or coordination
  • Chronically cold hands
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Frequent self-massage (consciously or subconsciously)

Why should you introduce ergonomics into your workplace?

An effective ergonomic implementation can benefit your organisation in a number of ways.

1) Improves Productivity

Implementing ergonomic solutions often improves productivity. By designing a workstation to allow good posture, less exertion and better heights and reaches, the workstation becomes more efficient. In addition, employees are not in pain or discomfort and can focus better on the task at hand. Lastly, injuries sustained from potential RSI’s mean that employees need to take time off work to get medical attention as well as to recover which results in lost productive work time.   

2) Better quality of work 

Poor ergonomic environments can lead to employees being frustrated and fatigued, resulting in them producing sub-standard work. For example, a construction worker may not screw in a screw tight enough due to fatigue from poor ergonomic practices. This may lead to product quality issues and potential injuries on duty.

3) Employees are more engaged

Employees notice and feel valued when a company considers their health and well-being. This can reduce staff turnover, decrease absenteeism, improve morale and increase overall employee output.

How to create an efficient workspace

Desktop Workspace

 It is important to avoid awkward posture and ensure that employees are positioned correctly at their desks. Below are some tips on how to set up desktop workspaces in your office:

Here are some tips to share with your employees:

  • Take frequent breaks: stand up and stretch, walk around or at least change the type of task you are working on.
  • Work more efficiently: make use of the software and hardware features such as fast scrolling and keyboard shortcuts.
  • Avoid glare: place your monitor away from any light source or add window blinds to control  light levels
  • Keep your wrists in line with your forearm and not bent upward, downward or on its side.
  • Do not use wrist rest areas while typing, they are for resting.

Laptop Workspace

Laptop technology was not built to replace the desktop workstations but many people use laptops instead of desktops. This can increase the risk of developing RSIs or can make existing symptoms worse. Laptop keyboards are attached to the monitor –  so they are not at eye level and this causes users to place the screen close to the eyes  or alternatively to have to over-extend the arms to reach the keyboard. The solution is to get a separate mouse, keyboard and laptop stand. This lowers the risk of RSIs and significantly helps with posture.


Tips on how to minimize risk associated with laptop usage:

  • Use a pillow ,pad or even folded towels to raise the chair high enough so that your elbows are level or slightly higher than your keyboard
  • Bring a power cable as some laptops dim when power cable is removed or when the battery get low to save energy. The power cable will ensure your laptops brightness is not affected and reduces eye strain and the tendency to lean forward.
  • Be sure to carry the laptop and accessories in a bag with a wide padded strap to distribute the weight comfortably. 

What positions should you avoid when using a laptop?

Below are some things to avoid when using your laptop on the go and do not have the appropriate facilities:


  • Shoulders hunched
  • No back support
  • Bent legs can cut circulation
  • Limbs not at a 90⁰ - 100⁰ angles
  • Head not tilted beyond a neutral position
  • Screen below natural eye level
  • Ergonomic products designed for comfortable computing

Mouse and keyboards

Your mouse and keyboard is the focal point of you day to day computing and you may find that your normal keyboard and mouse is causing you to experience some of the symptoms of RSIs mentioned previously. Ergonomic keyboard are designed to reduce risk of RSI and accommodate your body for comfortable computing for example the keyboard is split into two pieces, so that you do not have to slouch your shoulders to type. An ergonomic mouse is usually built with a high bridge for a firmer grip and  its buttons more toward the right hand side making it easier to click which also allows you to glide you mouse much easier.

Chair

Sitting is a position that adds stress to the structures in the spine. To avoid developing or compounding back problems, it is important to have an ergonomic chair that supports the lower back and evokes good posture.

Dont ignore the symptoms

Ergonomics seeks looks at ways to make the job fit the person, rather than the other way around.

Ignoring symptoms of RSI may eventually lead to employees being unable to perform their current job functions. They may have to permanently transfer jobs, undergo physical therapy, or even have surgery.

So implore employees to pay attention to how their bodies feel when they're working. Try to identify what causes pain, numbness or other symptoms to ensure you have a workplace that's free of ergonomic hazards.