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Ergonomics gives you the perfect fit at work

By Micaella DiFelice

Looking around your office workstation design can offer new insights into your work productivity and health. Countless hours spent hunched over typing away at the computer with little change in position can lead to potential work-related injuries.

Women’s Health Matters spoke to Christine Weidner, registered safety professional at Women’s College Hospital, about the importance of incorporating ergonomics in any workplace setting, and how it benefits employee workload as well as your health.

“Ergonomics addresses awkward postures that are held frequently for long portions of the workday. Awkward postures deviate from neutral or comfortable positions,” says Weidner.

“Ergonomics aids in identifying risk factors, for example, where anatomically a person is exposed to the awkward posture, and then applies a change to improve that working posture.”

Practicing good ergonomics at your desk ensures that any task you have accomplished throughout the day has put little or no strain on your body. Finding the perfect fit and position while sitting at your office chair will enable you to optimize tasks and work at a comfortable pace.

Weidner lists some of the health and safety risks caused by bad ergonomics in the work place:

  • visual fatigue
  • work-related stress
  • injuries affecting muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves

According to Weidner, employees have the potential to develop musculoskeletal disorders, also known as MSDs, from uncomfortable movements and strain at their desk.  This work-related injury is quite common, especially if ergonomics have never been addressed at the office.

“MSDs are injuries affecting muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves,” says Weidner. “MSDs develop due to the effects of repetitive, forceful or awkward movements on joints, ligaments and other soft tissues.”

It is with the help of ergonomics that awkward positioning or postures can be corrected in order to prevent the risk of developing MSDs. Small changes have the ability to make a major impact on the productivity of an employee. Weidner notes the uncomfortable work conditions to avoid:

  • placing a keyboard too high or low, leads to awkward bending of wrists
  • low counters can result in awkward bending of the back
  • laying documents flat on a desk can result in awkward bending and twisting of the neck

Being aware of the potential stresses of certain tasks as well as the toll it can take on your body can provide indicators of poor ergonomics. Weidner identifies the following tasks that increase an employee’s risk of developing MSDs due to poor ergonomics:

  • awkward postures
  • forceful gripping
  • contact stresses
  • lifting, lowering and carrying
  • pushing and pulling
  • organizational work factors

 Minor adjustments mean major changes

Becoming so involved at work that you forget to take breaks can also lead to potential MSDs. Minor posture adjustments such as getting up from your seat and varying tasks can help to refresh any long workday. Movement is important for minimizing fatigue and static effort of the muscles.  

Simple adjustments such as ensuring that the lumbar support on your chair fits in the hollow of your lower back, and making sure your feet are either flat on the floor, or on a footrest. The monitor height should also allow the top row of text to be aligned with your horizontal line of sight.  

These are only some of the important changes to be made to a computer workstation. Weidner mentions other crucial workstation adjustments that will greatly benefit a person’s health:

  • adjust the chair height so the arms hang relaxed, with the elbows roughly at right angles and the wrists straight on the keyboard
  • ensure that your monitor and keyboard are in line with your belly button
  • mouse and keyboard must be stored side-by-side and on the same level
  • high frequency tasks should be within easy reach (e.g. telephone, mouse, keyboard)

There are several ways to prevent any occurance of MSDs in your workplace in order to have a healthy office environment. To ensure that your computer work-station doesn’t become a hazard site, get an expert opinion by enlisting a safety specialist to do a work station assessment.  

Weidner explains what a typical workstation assessment consists of:

“Occupational Health & Safety will meet with staff at their workstation, discuss a ‘typical day,’” says Weidner. “We will record symptoms, observe how you work, discuss risk factors identified, apply changes that can be made on the spot, discuss relevant safe work practices and provide a report with assessment and recommendations.”

A comfortable posture and an organized workspace can be part of your daily routine by simply integrating ergonomics. Weidner also agrees that ergonomics will make for happy employees and an even more productive atmosphere.

 “When workers are not tired, uncomfortable or in pain, they can achieve higher performance goals,” says Weidner.

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: June 13, 2012

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  • Women's College Hospital