Workplace Ergonomics

08-01-2022

Posted By: Envision2bWell

Workplace Ergonomics

Workplace Ergonomics

By Lisa Barday, Guest Contributor

 

On any given day, you are likely spending a significant time in front of some type of technology. If it’s in an office environment, you probably have some helpful resources like an adjustable chair and computer monitor but if your work environment is at home, you may be lacking some of these critical tools and may not be feeling your best. Perhaps you are also not paying much attention to ergonomics in your workplace or if you are like many of us, you may not know what that means or why it’s important. Let’s explore the concept of ergonomics and things you can do to make positive changes.

 

What is Ergonomics?

woman hunched over office desk, bad postureErgonomics, as defined by The International Ergonomics Association, “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system” (1). That certainly sounds like a scientific description but it’s quite simple. Ergonomics is how your body interacts with the world around you and its presence is everywhere. Its not just about how you do your work but its also about how you sit in your car, use intuitive technology, interact with consumer goods, etc. When we relate ergonomics to the way you work it’s about setting up your office furniture, technology and accessories in such a way that you are putting the least amount of stress and strain on your body and remaining in a neutral posture with the objective of reducing your risk of fatigue and injury.

If you ever worked in an office environment or if you have an office at home, you likely had or currently have a workstation (cubicle) or a desk, an adjustable chair, maybe some storage and lighting and of course the technology you need to do your job. At the office, you may have taken that furniture for granted and probably didn’t think much about it. It was there every day when you showed up for work, was provided by your employer and was comfortable (at least hopefully it was). 

What you probably don’t know is the commercial office furniture industry represents billions and billions of dollars of sales and is highly competitive and complex. A lot of decisions went into selecting the furniture you used at your office and it was a large investment by your employer.

 

Ergonomics In The Office

Commercial office furniture is designed and engineered with ergonomics front of mind and many manufacturers (but not all) adhere to guidelines implemented by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA). BIFMA “sponsors the development and maintenance of furniture safety, performance, and sustainability standards that impact people’s lives.” (2). They set standards for quality, dimensions, safety and sustainability for this industry. For ergonomics, they have the “G1” standard that guides manufacturers as to the dimensions, adjustments and features that should be designed into office furniture such as computer chairs, tables, desks, etc. so they can accommodate the body sizes and work habits of most of the population. To establish this guideline, BIFMA uses a database of body dimensions (anthropometrics) that represents the 5th to 95th percentile of the world population and most of us fall into this range. So, with that in mind, you can be confident that office furniture certified by BIFMA is designed to fit you in most instances.

If you are a business owner looking to replace or upgrade the furniture at your office or if you are selecting pieces for your personal use, there are some features you should look for to ensure that you are purchasing a quality piece that was designed with ergonomics in mind. Where possible, select furniture that has been certified by BIFMA or at least look for the following features:

For computer chairs:

      • Seat height is adjustable
      • Seat depth is adjustable
      • The chair should also have a curve in the back to support your lumbar or have an adjustable cushion or back height along with adjustable arms.

man at standing deskIf you are selecting a height adjustable table (sit-to-stand) look for a height range that comes as close to possible to the BIFMA suggested range of 22.6” to 48.7” (3) with the goal to accommodate both your proper seated and standing typing height. If you don’t have a height adjustable table, consider adding a keyboard tray to the underside of your desk and be sure it can push out of the way when not in use, doesn’t shake when you type on it and doesn’t hit your legs while seated. Monitor arms are an excellent addition to your workspace as they allow you to easily adjust the depth and height of your monitor(s). Choose monitor arms that are stable, have a weight range that can support the weight of your specific monitor and have good wire management to keep your cords and cables secured.

 

Ergonomics In Design

Once you have the furniture pieces you need the key to success is setting them up correctly. World renowned architect Eero Saarinen (4) outlined the process of design to "always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan."

This same concept applies to setting up your workspace as well.

  • Start with the chair and adjust it so your feet are flat on the floor with thighs parallel to the floor and knees at a 90-degree angle.
  • Adjust the seat depth (if available) so you can fit 2-3 fingers between the front edge of the seat and the back of your legs.
  • Adjust the arms so they are low enough to not hit your desk when you are pulled in close and wide enough to allow you to easily get in and out of the chair but still rest your arms while working.
  • Raise or lower the lumbar of the chair back to fit comfortably in your lower back to provide good support.
  • Finally, adjust the tension of the back tilt so you can move freely and lean back when you want to but be sure its stiff enough to still support your weight.

 

Next, we move to the typing surface and make necessary adjustments there.

  • If you have a height adjustable table, lower it so you can type comfortably with your arms loose at your sides andyour elbows at a 90-degree angle with wrists and forearms straight.
  • If you don’t have a height adjustable desk, you may need to raise up your chair seat height to achieve this posture. If that is necessary, put a footrest on the floor to support your feet and legs.
  • Adjust the height of your monitor so the top line of text is approximately level with your eyes and screen is about an arm’s length away from you. 

These adjustments are all suggestions of where to start. You may need to tweak them to find the right fit for your body and work habits but its important to start somewhere.

 

Creating Healthy Work Habits

We don’t want to stop there, however. Creating healthy work habits is not just about addressing ergonomics its also about incorporating movement into your workday. Our heavy use of technology often leads to sedentary habits. It’s easy to become engrossed in a work task and then suddenly realize that you have not left your chair for hours. We can use technology to our advantage to remind us to stand and move away from our desks, but timers and phone apps can sometimes be disruptive to our workflow. What might work better for you is to identify tasks you do throughout the workday that can be accomplished in a different posture such as conference calls, reading or research, etc. Plan to tackle these activities while standing at a kitchen counter, sitting on a comfy lounge chair or while walking around your house or outside.

woman doing incline pushups at deskYou can create opportunities for movement throughout the workday if you look with a little creativity. Ideally, you should try to get out of your chair and stand frequently. In a comprehensive research study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada, by Dr. Jack Callaghan, he and his team identify the ideal ratio of sit to stand is somewhere between 1:1 and 1:3. For example, through the course of an hour, consider starting out sitting for 45 minutes and standing for 15 minutes then gradually increase that ratio so you are standing at and equal time to sitting (5). Take Dr. Callaghan’s advice and “move early move often”. Conversely, you don’t want to stand and work all day as that creates other challenges. We need to find a balance that works and that is sustainable.

To cultivate these good habits, start small by finding ways to move. Increase your awareness about how you feel while you are working. Are you fatigued or is there a low-grade twinge or discomfort somewhere? If so, immediately address it. Make a commitment to success but be prepared for some setbacks. Often simply being aware of how you feel and making simple adjustments to your space can make a world of difference with minimal effort. Selecting the right furniture, adjusting it correctly and incorporating movement strategies into your workday will get you on the right path to comfort and productivity while reducing your risk of fatigue and injury. Remember, good ergonomics is a marathon not a sprint.

 

 

Lisa BardayLisa Barday is the owner of Be Well Ergo, an office ergonomics consulting company and comprehensive resource for clients seeking assistance to ensure their employees are happy, healthy, and productive in
their work environments. Lisa is an accredited professional with expertise needed to provide effective workstation evaluations, training resources and to discuss ergonomic challenges and corporate evaluation programs with clients.

https://www.bewellergo.com/

 

References:

    1. https://iea.cc/
    2. https://www.bifma.org/
    3. The BIFMA Ergonomics Guideline - Ultimate Test for Fit is based upon BIFMA G1- 2013. For discussions, data, recommendations, dimensions and other Ergonomic information – See the full 131-page BIFMA G1-2013 Ergonomics Guideline for Furniture Used in Office Work Spaces Designed for Computer Use.
    4. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eero-Saarinen
    5. https://uwaterloo.ca/news/how-long-should-you-stand-rather-sit-your-work-station

 

 

 

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