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Written by Tim Rhodes Last Updated: Mar 8, 2023
When it comes to the workplace, ergonomics is an important consideration.
Ergonomics is defined as a scientific discipline involved that deals with the study of how equipment in a working environment is arranged and how comfortable and efficient workers are.
Workplace ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace while considering the workers’ capabilities and limitations.
This course generates ergonomic experts who conduct assessments in new workplaces to establish the best layout foundation and also help make improvements in an already existing workplace.
Table of Contents
Why Ergonomics Is An Important Consideration In The Workplace
This article deals with ergonomics and the reasons why they should always be considered in the workplace.
Types of Ergonomics
Ergonomics is a popular area of study with over seventy years of research.
The field of ergonomics has a very massive impact on your world at work, home, and other places you tend to visit regularly.
However, it’s essential to understand that ergonomics differs.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of affair.
There are three types of ergonomics that one needs to understand to figure out how to apply it in the workplace, whether in your own office, warehouse, or for your staff.
Ergonomics is a course you can undertake in higher learning institutions for a deeper understanding.
The following are the three types of ergonomics:
Most employees try to consider their workers’ physical comfort as much as possible.
Physical ergonomics mainly focuses on how a human’s body responds to the tools and equipment they come into contact with daily.
These tools include desks, chairs, keyboards, and other computer equipment.
They require a specific design to become favorable to a particular working environment.
The most common issues caused by poor physical ergonomics are repetitive strain injuries that come from vibration, sound, light, force, posture, etc.
This type of ergonomics is the most involved in the workplace.
It does not only revolve around the office but in other places such as hotels, bars, etc.
It’s a type of ergonomics that surveys ways in which entire workplaces can be optimized.
It’s also known as macro-ergonomics, and it focuses on how organizational structures and policies enhance efficiency.
The most subjective aspects of the workplace that this type of ergonomics addresses are:
- Virtual organizations
- New work paradigms
- Participatory design
- Crew resource and management
- Work schedule design
- Quality management
- Community ergonomics
Organizational ergonomics aims at attaining a coordinated work system to help improve both employers and employees businesswise.
As companies implement new technology in the workplace, organizational ergonomics is applied.
It’s done by considering several factors, such as functions, capabilities, capacities, user-friendliness, and integration of the new equipment.
Cognitive ergonomics is a source of knowledge for designers to use as a guideline to ensure good usability.
It’s the study that focuses on how well the capabilities of users match the use of a product while focusing on knowledge of human perception, mental processing, and memory.
It mainly focuses on work activities that emphasize the use of your cognitive components such as calculation and decision-making.
Other work activities that involve the application of cognitive ergonomics are those in critical environments, and in complex, changeable environments.
The notion of the domain which studies how competent or limited users are when interacting with a system is central to cognitive ergonomics.
There are two underlying theories through which each cognitive study operates, and they are a theory about the domain and a theory about human cognition.
Cognitive psychologists find solutions for workers that have cognitive disorders and frequent failures.
Cognitive disorders such as the reduction in visual and hearing functions result in human errors and this is a leading cause of accidents and injuries, especially in the workplace.
Workplace Ergonomic Risk Factors
Plenty of employees suffer from musculoskeletal fatigue as a result of their working environment and demands.
The risk factors related to work activity make it difficult to maintain the balance between this fatigue and recovery.
Some of these risks can cause an employee to suffer from MSD (Musculoskeletal Disorders).
These are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or the musculoskeletal system.
The musculoskeletal system is made up of the muscles, blood vessels, tendons, nerves, ligaments, etc.
Below are the three primary workplace ergonomic risks to consider.
High Task Repetition
The majority of daily tasks and processes in the workplace are repetitive.
An organization controls tasks through hourly and daily production targets and regular work processes.
Repetition of high tasks, especially when combined with other risk factors like awkward postures and high force, can cause an MSD.
The best control methods to consider are:
- Engineering controls that eliminate excessive force and awkward postures so that tasks can be conducted without risking employees to MSD
- Having job rotations that reduce the duration, frequency, and severity of an MSD
- Work practice controls that provide safe and successful processes towards completion of work tasks
- Short rests and stretch breaks go a long way in keeping an employee healthy for increased circulation required for recovery
Sustained Awkward Postures
Repetitive awkward postures overload muscles and tendons by placing excessive force on joints.
It’s always advisable to maintain close mid-range motion of joints during operations for more efficiency.
When employees work out of the mid-range motion repetitively without ample recovery time, they risk suffering from an MSD.
The control methods to consider for this risk factor are:
- Implement ergonomic modifications that seek to sustain mid-range motion especially for vulnerable joints
- Reducing awkward postures by applying favorable work practice controls
- Job rotation
Some tasks at work exert high force loads on the employee’s body.
Muscles increase their responses hence increasing chances of fatigue that can lead to MSD.
This risk factor can be countered by the use of engineering controls such as mechanical assists, workstations, counterbalance systems, powered equipment, etc.
Training workers on using proper working and lifting techniques to reduce force requirements also reduce the chances of excess force loads on employees.
Some proper work and lifting techniques include:
- Planning on what you are lifting and how to lift it
- Warming up your legs and back before performing any lifting task
- Using the best lifting style know as a basic diagonal style that prevents injury as well as reduces the risk of MSD
Strategies to Improve Workplace Ergonomics
Based on the fact that ergonomics is an important consideration, more than 50% of accidents and injuries that occur in the workplace are a result of poor ergonomics.
They have significant impacts on an employee’s productivity, absenteeism, and healthcare costs.
By improving ergonomics, you get to avoid the growing issue of work-related MSDs and other problems.
You can improve your facilities’ ergonomics by practicing the strategies below:
Offer Opportunities for Employees to Mix Up
Sitting or standing in one position for a long time leads to potential injury.
A workstation that is height adjustable can benefit the employee by allowing him to alternate between working when sitting or standing throughout the day.
Moreover, there are apparatus that allows for leaning and ergonomic chairs that help minimize the time in one position.
Flexible employees should be allowed to perform different tasks throughout the day.
Different tasks may expose a worker to sitting, standing, and maybe lifting tasks which is healthy to spend time in different postures.
Go Beyond the Standard Assessment
The assessment of the facility’s environment should take into account each employee’s role.
Some employees may stand the entire day as they work, while others may be seated in the office.
In other cases, some others may spend a lot of time lifting heavy objects or in awkward positions.
Assessing the workplace gives you a comprehensive approach towards laying a foundation that implements useful ergonomic improvements.
There are several ergonomic risk assessment tools that one can use to understand the ergonomic changes required in the workplace.
WISHA lifting calculator performs ergonomic risk assessment on a wide variety of mainly manual lifting and lowering tasks.
Rapid Entire Body Assessment (REBA) is a tool that uses a systematic process to evaluate potential postural MSDs and ergonomic design risks associated with job tasks.
Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) assesses the requirements of tasks that demand the postural load of the neck, trunk, and upper extremities.
Liberty Mutual Manual Material Handling Tables, also commonly known as Snook Tables, outlines the best design goals for lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing, and pulling tasks.
Select Appropriate Safety Equipment
Having conducted an assessment of your facility’s environment, you can provide your employees with suitable safety equipment.
The equipment should encourage safe postures, aid in lifting heavy equipment, and protect them from the risk of musculoskeletal injuries.
Safety equipment can include:
- Knee pads to reduce pressure on the knees
- Cushioned floor mats for standing on
- Ergonomically-designed chairs
- Carts and machinery for heavy lifting
Some of this equipment may be quite expensive, but positive results are visible when employees are comfortable.
Consistently Communicate and Educate
Ergonomics is an important consideration worth dealing with.
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to raise awareness of the risks employees face in their daily tasks at work.
They should be continuously reminded to regulate and balance repetitive movements, use protective equipment, take short stretch breaks, and avoid hazards.
Initial safety training is a necessity, and communicating this information regularly through memos and other forms of communication is a necessary follow-up.
Benefits of Good Ergonomics
In our current modern world, most of the time spent by an employee in the office is in front of a computer.
During this process, the body endures massive physical and psychological stress.
Employees who do not work in offices are also exposed to stress that can be caused by sounds from manufacturing machines or accidents, etc.
However, the solution is the implementation of good ergonomics, which are beneficial to both the employer and employee.
The following are the positive impacts of excellent ergonomics in the workplace:
Improves Employee Productivity
Employees who work in an organization that makes use of ergonomic equipment and well-designed workplaces work at a faster pace while making few errors.
They usually have a more positive attitude towards work and higher energy levels.
A well-designed workplace for your employees is a benefit to the entire organization, with more work getting done within a shorter period.
It helps reduce awkward postures that are not efficient for work.
It’s also advisable to ensure that highly repetitive tasks are reduced, primarily when they depend on risk factors such as awkward postures.
When proper ergonomics are implemented, the employees are less fatigued and rarely frustrated.
In such an environment, they can perform their best even when the task is too physically draining.
Tasks assigned to employees in a well-designed workplace are performed in line with their training.
Ergonomics can help you save money by spending money on improving your workplace to accommodate your employees’ needs.
One way through which companies cut costs is by reducing workers’ compensation claims through a proper ergonomics program.
Implementing good ergonomics includes safety precautions, training, and equipment.
They reduce health-related issues by employees, which can cause business costs to drive up with medical claims.
Medical compensation claims on issues such as MSDs are quite high, and it’s better to prevent these injuries than treat them.
When you take care of your employees, they will feel appreciated and reciprocate by working their best to satisfy their employer.
Attracts the Best Employee Candidates
If a quality candidate has a few jobs to choose from, one of the factors he will consider is whether the design for the workplace is meant for the employees’ well-being.
Organizations are working towards improving workers’ environments due to the shortage of labor and quality employees.
Blake McGowan, a managing consultant at Humantech, says, “A comfortable environment is a way to excite employees.”
He explains further and says, “It keeps employees’ present’ at the workplace, and that leads to higher retention of talent.”
According to a recent Havard study, employees were found to look for the basics first in the workplace.
Such basics include better quality air, access to natural light, and the freedom and ability to personalize their workspace.
An organization that ensures ergonomic efficiency in its employee environment stands out and attracts new hires and top talent.
Improves Mental and Physical Conditions
Every year, millions of working days are lost, and a majority of them are related to musculoskeletal problems.
The application of sound ergonomic designs combat issues like neck injuries, spinal alignment issues, and the mental well-being of workers which affect the performance of tasks in the workplace.
A good posture reduces the chances of misaligning the spine, which is a risk of severe neck pain and back problems.
Working while seated for long hours cuts off the circulation of blood to the legs and the central part of the body.
This decrease in blood flow impacts both physical health and brain function and can cause musculoskeletal disorders.
A continuous vision problem at the workplace causes headaches and eye strain.
It’s a problem that is well associated with office jobs.
However, there are new ergonomic designs that can now help reduce the effects.
Improves Employee Engagement
When an employee does not experience fatigue and discomfort while working, it reduces turnover and absenteeism.
It can also increase morale and employee involvement in work.
When you incorporate ergonomics in the workplace, employees will appreciate walking into a healthy environment.
They’ll show their appreciation by being more vigorous and efficient in completing assigned tasks.
They become more concerned with the success of the business and take massive action towards employer satisfaction.
Workplace ergonomics such as ideal heights and reaches, controlling screen glare, and reduced motions are some of the best actions to take to promote the engagement of your employees.
Accommodates Employees of Varying Abilities
People have different physical and cognitive abilities.
They come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s a legal requirement to accommodate the needs of each individual.
With the implementation of excellent and effective ergonomics, all your employees’ requirements are met.
Other benefits of proper ergonomics in the workplace include:
- Good ergonomic habits create a focused wellness mentality and a broader commitment to safety in the entire workplace
- It enhances a supercharge in your growth strategy as a business
- It encourages loyalty of employees which is an efficient growth strategy for your business
The benefits above clearly show that ergonomics is not just an expenditure, but an investment.
Good ergonomics impact your employees positively and therefore leads to the success of your company as an employer.
Effects of Poor Ergonomics in the Workplace
The cost of poor ergonomics is way higher than you may expect.
It likely leads to several serious physical problems.
The type of problems made clear below show why it’s easier to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace rather than treat them.
Negative Health Consequences
The consequences associated with ignorance of ergonomics are often confused with other conditions.
For starters, it causes some employers to take ergonomics for granted as they don’t understand the risks most employees face daily.
Poor ergonomics can cause MSD, a painful condition that affects the muscles, nerves, tendons, and tendon sheaths.
One of the most common MSDs is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a condition where a nerve in a specific passageway is pinched and causes symptoms like numbness, sharp pain, and tingling.
Back injuries are also likely to happen due to awkward postures or substantial forces on the body for long periods without enough recovery time.
The nature of some professions in healthcare (nursing) and construction puts an employee at a higher risk of back injuries.
Working with the wrong lighting for many hours causes headaches.
For example, when the light of your computer is too bright or dim, it may cause you to strain your eyes and suffer from itching, burning, and fatigue.
Nagging physical issues or even minor injuries can actually cause an employee to make maximum use of their sick time.
It causes disruptions as other employees have to change processes to accommodate the absence.
In turn, it affects productivity, especially if a high-skilled employee decides to take sick leave.
It also frustrates workers who have to fill in for absent colleagues.
Employees may show up to work as usual, but put in less effort only to meet the minimum requirements of a job.
It’s mainly caused by the kind of environment they get to spend their time in while working.
It can mainly be seen from employees with no more sick days or those trying to save their days for more grave health issues.
When employees are exposed to poor working conditions like a stuffy room and poor lighting, their attitude towards work becomes negative.
The morale of the entire workforce can be affected, especially during the absenteeism of a colleague(s).
When presenteeism is at play, the morale of the employees is also low.
Fellow employees may feel resentful having to take up extra duties and shifts to make up for an employee on sick leave.
This article has dealt with all you need to know as ergonomics is an important consideration in the workplace.
One can use the various ergonomic assessment tools to find the most suitable improvements necessary in the workplace.
Ergonomics do not apply in the office only; even for freelancers working at home, they need to ensure that they are comfortable in their tasks.
Training your employees and making them aware of the risks they face when working is also essential towards promoting safety in the workplace.
Take that step to improve the environment your employees work in and see how much positive difference it makes to your business.