Our ergonomics definition is that it is the science of adapting the job and/or the equipment and the human to each other for optimal safety and productivity. In the office environment, there are various areas, listed in categories on the left-hand side of the screen, that must be addressed in order to ensure the health and well-being of office workers. We recommend reading through this information to better understand good ergonomic practices in the workplace. We aim to provide information about ergonomics and ergonomic products in an attempt to improve health in the work pace.
The article below was published and distributed to therapists and health and safety officers in January 2018.
Does your work give you a pain in the neck?
Ergonomics can be the answer if you act.
Your head weighs as much as a bowling ball and if you don’t sit up straight with your head symmetrically over your body you put pressure on your neck muscles. Craning forward to type or read your screen can generate a “desk accident.” In today’s office we all have our own computer with our own keyboard and mouse and of equal importance a document holder in our line of sight. Most of us will spend up to 7 hours a day at our desk which is as long as we spend in bed. The “desk accident” can be as harmful to your body as a lot of other accidents but because the damage tends to develop over time we don’t identify it early, are slow to do something about it and worse still do nothing to prevent it.
Health and safety in the workplace starts with the chair the office tool we use the most. Are you sitting on an “ergonomic “chair? Unless it’s an old apple box the answer is likely to be “Yes.” The word “ergonomic” in reference to a chair has a meaning which is so broad that the claim of ergonomic can be attached to a chair with a foam seat pad and any piece of equipment which has been adapted to our use.
The word “Ergonomic” can be legitimately used for any product or product feature which will improve the work situation in the workplace. At its bare minimum a soft-foam seat can make the chair an “Ergonomic Chair.” It can be argued that the extra comfort will benefit the relationship between the user and their workplace. And yet a Chair with 3 lever action and soft-foam and lumbar support in the back section is also an “Ergonomic Chair.” So, just to call a chair “Ergonomic” is insufficient to clearly provide a true picture of what the user can expect.
Similarly the variation of chairs to suit the user is becoming increasingly important as we find in New Zealand a wider range of body weights and sizes. No one chair will suit all. Buying bulk lots of the same chair may in fact be costly rather than cost saving. An uncomfortable chair will have an adverse effect on productivity and the hoped for saving by buying the same chair in bulk can become an expense. And yet we have available within our good quality chairs the ability to provide smaller, bigger, wider, longer and even stronger for extra heavies. The investment should always consider the cost benefit and the place to start is the piece of equipment which gets the most use. Ergonomically the chair must suit the user. The right chair with or without all the “bells and whistles” (depending on a real user benefit) will provide more comfort for longer periods and allow a better situation for the use of other equipment. The arrival of a seat slide for example provides an answer to the need for short, standard or long seats as it does all.
Good seating, good sitting and correct positioning of suitable equipment will help us to work with less strain and even pain and therefore maximise our output.
The same argument exists for desks and equipment which we need to efficiently fulfil our tasks. What works for some will not for others and we need to address this with individual assessment and equipment to allow top performance. TFT screens no longer need large desk space thus reducing office footprint. With the virtual blanket use of computers by all office staff we are seeing a growth in physical and psychological injuries within the desk footprint. The emphasis on pauses and movement is an example of how assessors are having to respond to these problems as distinct from the previous tactic of just supplying better equipment.
Ergonomics has been defined as “The relationship between people and their workplace.” OR
“The science of designing the job, equipment and workplace to fit the worker.”
In the mid 1990’s the New Zealand Department of Labour recognised the changing workplace as the desk workers became totally involved in the use of computers and the computer peripherals. They instigated the “Approved Code of Practice for the use Visual Display Units in the place of work 1995” under section 20 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. This has now been superceded by the Health and Safety at work act 2015.
Health and safety specialists in today’s business arena have to recognise the wider meaning of ergonomics and how it can be incorporated into a benefit to provide better worker health at their workplace and the flow on benefit to the company who in the first instance, are the investors. These factors are part of the reporting process where an individual assessment is conducted with the user.
In a business situation health and wellness managers and therapists and specialist suppliers have recognised ergonomics as a situation and have in their various ways tried to make the ergonomic situation work to improve the comfort and wellbeing of the people and create the flow-on of better productivity for the Company. As well as any benefit to their staff, they hope to see a commercial benefit to all parties from their response to problems within the workplace footprint.
There is little point in understanding what is “ergonomics” and its relationship to a user if we do not identify the right and wrong ergonomic situation and where applicable do something about it. A filed report on the assessment is a good way to show that OSH requirements have been considered under the Code of Practice and the Health and Safety at Work Act, but unless any necessary action is taken the whole process is only a report with no benefit to the user and subsequent productivity gain to the company.