National Safety Month continues throughout June, and while the idea of safety in the workplace often conjures up images of sudden accidents and injuries, employers and workers alike also need to guard against conditions that develop over time.
Any work environment, whether a factory, jobsite or office, can be the source of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) ranging from general soreness and stiffness to more serious conditions including carpal tunnel syndrome. There’s no sure way to prevent RSI completely – for example, some people are simply more prone to developing carpal tunnel syndrome than others – but the best way to reduce their frequency and severity is with proper workplace ergonomics.
A proper workplace ergonomics process reduces or removes the risk factors that lead to musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) and creates an environment conducive to better performance and productivity. The way to achieve improved ergonomics will vary greatly depending upon the workplace, but for our purposes we’ll look at general best practices for an office environment.
Training: An important first step in preventing stress injuries is to make employees aware of good ergonomic practices, and of the potential consequences of poor ergonomics. Risk factors here include force (moving or lifting), posture and repetition. Even with a desk job, the latter two especially can present issues. Get employees thinking preventatively to head off issues before they occur.
Design: Proper workplace design is critical to good ergonomics. In an office setting one effective way to address the issue of repetition is with adjustable workstations, allowing employees to work sitting down or standing so they’re not in the same position for prolonged periods of time. The avoidance of excessive stretching and reaching to complete tasks is important also. Standing employees should be able to access what they need between waist and shoulder height, and should be provided with anti-fatigue mats.
Pay careful attention to seating as well. Chairs or stools should be adjustable, should swivel to accommodate motion and should offer substantial lumbar support. You may need to make individual arrangements for employees who are especially short or tall, as best practices include a seating position with feet flat on the floor or on an appropriate footrest, and knees no higher than the hips. The height of computer monitors is also critical to prevention of neck issues.
Communicate. One of the best ways to identify shortfalls in your ergonomic design is to ask detailed questions of your team members. How do they feel at the end of a workday? Are there recurring issues with soreness in certain parts of their bodies, or certain tasks where they notice discomfort? The answers will offer a road map to areas for improvement.
Questions about designing your workplace with proper ergonomics? Contact Douron.