Office Ergonomics

Office work is rapidly changing, as new developments in computer technology come along which can make our jobs easier, but which also can present new risks for both management and employees.

Ergonomics is the scientific study of human work. It considers the physical and mental capabilities and limits of the worker as he or she interacts with tools, equipment, work methods, tasks and the working environment.

Office Ergonomics is the branch of ergonomics dealing specifically with the office environment. In recent years the main focus of office ergonomics has been on computer work due to the rapid increase in computer use in the modern office and the associated increase in injuries.

An ergonomics is a tool which business owners and managers can use to help prevent office injuries, so Instead of forcing the person to adapt to the work, Ergonomics will reduce the risk of injury by adapting the work to fit the person.

In addition to injury risks, it is costly for organizations when a person becomes injured or ill given both these direct costs and the loss of the valuable services provided by the person (sick leave opportunity costs).

Office jobs should be analyzed, to find problems and develop solutions for them, Employee should be able to set up their own workstation to suit the way they work and be able to evaluate all of their office jobs and begin a comprehensive ergonomics program. Larger companies may require assistance from an ergonomics consultant or may wish to hire an in-house ergonomist.

By removing the barriers that exist in many workplaces that prevent employees from performing to the best of their abilities.  Ergonomics is also concerned with enhancing work performance to introduce a more effective and efficient business module.

Ergonomics is a creative process, and to be successful it requires the involvement of all employees to deal with various related issues.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

The most common injury risk associated with an office is Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), MSDs are injuries or pain in the human musculoskeletal system, including the joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons, and structures that support limbs, blood vessels, neck, and back. Symptoms include:

  • discomfort
  • pain
  • fatigue
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • numbness and tingling

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders typically develop over a long period of time. The earlier that employees report symptoms and have them attended to, the better the chance of preventing a serious injury.

When an employee reports occasional discomfort due to work activities, it does not necessarily mean that they will eventually develop a WMSD, but it is a sign that problems exist that will need to be addressed. Often, making simple changes to their job, work practices or workstation will reduce the symptoms to a level where injury is no longer a concern;

It will not be possible to prevent all WMSD’s, and you may even have employees who currently have

symptoms of an injury but do not understand the cause or the need to get medical treatment. One step you may want to take to find out who is experiencing symptoms and at what level is to hand out a Symptoms Survey.

Refer the following sample form: Ergonomics Symptoms Survey

It is essential that severe and longer lasting symptoms should be evaluated by a medical professional experienced in diagnosing and treating WMSD’s, who will determine whether the symptoms constitute an actual injury, and also if the injury is work-related. More serious cases may be referred to a specialist such as a neurologist or a hand specialist.

As WMSD’s often involve time loss and some work restrictions; therefore it is often beneficial to have a contact person within the company who will be responsible for keeping in touch both with the employee and with their health care professional. Management of more serious injuries can involve extensive changes to job duties and workstation equipment.

Injuries that are addressed early on through an ergonomics process will often be less severe, have little or no time loss, and will allow the employee to continue on as a productive member of the company.

Exposure to WMSD’s risk factors will increase chances of injuries, it is noted that a longer duration of exposure results in a greater potential for injury. Workers who spend six or more hours a day doing repetitive data entry have a more serious injury potentials compared to those who only spend an average of two hours per day repetitively keying.

As you go through the below-listed factors, you will observe that employees had been exposed to a combination of risk factors associated with one task, which will further increase the likelihood of WMSD’s

Environmental factors (lighting, temperature, noise) and organizational factors (job design, work schedules) can also increase the risk of injury, as well as cause other problems that affect worker performance.

 WMSD’s Risk factors

Repetition

Performing the same or similar motions repeatedly without a rest time, this can result in joints trauma and surrounding issues leading to injury.

A very common example is lengthy keyboard typing, moving and clicking the mouse, using the calculator, or any other work that is repetitive.

Static loading

When muscles must hold the body in a single position for a long time. This lack of movement reduces circulation and causes muscle tension, which can result in an injury.

Sitting still for a long period of time and sitting without back support and looking down at a document on a desk are a risk factor in this sense.

Awkward postures

Postures that bend the joints into positions where they are more likely to become injured are termed awkward postures.

This includes: reaching up and over the keyboard to use the mouse, leaning over to type in data from papers lying flat on the desktop, cradling the phone between the ear and the shoulder, elevating the arms when writing on a work surface that is too high, and bending at the waist to load copy machines.

Mechanical contact stress 

A hard or sharp surface or object pressing into the soft tissues -the tendons, nerves and blood vessels- can cause damage that over time can result in serious injury. This damage is termed mechanical contact stress.

Examples include: resting wrists on the desk edge while typing or using the mouse, typing with palms resting on the hard lip of a keyboard tray, using rubber stamps with handles that press into the palm of the hand, using scissors with hard, metal handles, and sitting in a chair that places pressure on the backs of the thighs.

Force

Many office tasks require a moderate amount of force to be applied by very small muscles, which may cause fatigue, swelling, muscle strains and ligament strains.

Examples: “dragging and dropping” with the mouse, gripping the sides of the mouse tightly, grasping thick file folders or manuals, stapling or stamping by hand, opening 3-ring binders, and lifting heavy manuals with one hand.

Most office workers are not trained in proper lifting techniques. Accordingly, lifting items such as computer equipment and boxes of copy paper or files can result in serious injuries. Also, seated work tends to weaken the stomach muscles, which would ordinarily help support the spine when lifting. Both of these factors place office workers at a greater risk for injury, even from the occasional lift.

By Tarik Altoubasi 

ref. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries,  Office Ergonomics, Practical solutions for a safer workplace.