Your working environment can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health. Yet many of us are working in uncomfortable conditions without realising we’re putting ourselves at risk. The ongoing lower back pain, the stiff neck, the shoulder that aches after a long day in the office, could all be caused due to poor ergonomic set up.
Ergonomics has a massive impact when it comes to reducing the risk of injury in the workplace. Injuries and musculoskeletal disorders are the cause of 90 per cent of serious compensation claims in Australia and poor ergonomic set up is one of the factors that contributes to these alarming statistics.
But what does the phase ergonomics actually mean? And how can ergonomics help to prevent us from sustaining injuries and illness at work?
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the process or science of designing a workplace or workstation with the employees needs in mind. Workplace ergonomics take into consideration the design of the overall workplace and working environment, while workstation ergonomics takes into consideration the individual needs of each worker.
When reviewing an individual’s workstation, ergonomics is about looking at the individual’s personal attributes such as their height, along with the physical and mental demands of their jobs while also considering any injuries or illnesses they may have. This information is then used to optimize the workstation to the individual’s unique needs.
Mental health also needs to be taken into consideration. Businesses have a legal responsibility to identify and eliminate the risks of psychological injuries at work. In its guidelines for psychological safety, Safe Work Australia identifies uncomfortable working conditions as a cause of mental stress in the workplace.
So, what can you do to improve the ergonomics of your workstation, to reduce your risk of injury?
1. Adjust your office chair
Most workers sit too high in their chairs, increasing the risk of neck and back injury. It’s important to learn how to use all the adjustment features on your office chair so that it can be set up to give you the support that you need. Remember everyone’s different!
For a start, you shouldn’t lean forward. Lean back and unlock the backrest. Adjust the tension in your chair so the backrest can support your movements as you work.
You should also make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If they don’t reach the floor comfortably, use a footrest rather than lowering your seat. When you’re seated comfortably with your feet flat, there should be between five and six centimetres of clearance between the edge of your seat and the backs of your knees.
Whatever you do, don’t cross your legs as you work! Sitting asymmetrically puts a strain on your hips.
2. Bring your keyboard and mouse closer
Your keyboard and mouse need to be as close to you as possible, so you don’t have to lean forward in your chair to use them. Having them too far away, or at the wrong angle, can cause problems with your wrists and forearms, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Bring them close to the edge of your desk, and make sure you can type with your wrists straight and resting on the desk.
Investing in palm supports will help to keep your wrists in the correct position. You should also move the mouse with your arm, instead of isolating your wrist.
3. Check the height of your monitor
If your monitor is too high or too low, it can cause problems in your neck. Your monitor should ideally be about an arm’s length away from you, with the top taskbar level with your eye height when you’re sitting down.
4. Take care how you use your laptop
Laptops are very convenient, but if used for prolonged periods, they can strain your neck, back and shoulders. This is because we tend to hunch over when we’re using them.
If you have to use a laptop all the time for work, you should consider investing in a laptop stand and a separate keyboard, so your keyboard and monitor can both be at the right height for you.
5. Invest in a sit-stand desk
Most office workers spend the majority of their time at work sitting down. However, this can cause posture problems and weaken muscles, leading to pain and a variety of injuries.
Sit-stand desks are ideal, as they allow you to alter your posture as often as you need to during the working day. However, if you’re going to use one, you should make sure you stand on a rubber mat rather than standing directly on the floor. Anti-fatigue or shock absorbing mats help to reduce fatigue and stress as well as minimize compression of the spinal-cord, improve posture and assist with blood circulation.
Find out more about ergonomics at work
There are a wide variety of steps you can take to improve the ergonomic set up of your working environment and reduce the risks of physical and mental injuries from occuring in the workplace. If you’d like more information on this topic, please contact us.