Ergonomics means “fitting the job to the worker.” It’s the science and practice of designing jobs and workplaces to closely match the capabilities and limitations of the human body. Ergonomics helps to decrease muscle fatigue and discomfort, increase quality of work and life, and, perhaps most importantly, reduce the number and severity of injuries.
Injuries resulting from poor ergonomics in the workplace are often preventable. Not to mention, these injuries are costly. They account for 34% of all lost workday injuries and illnesses and account for $15-$20 billion in workers’ compensation costs. Nearly 600,000 injuries requiring time away from work are reported every year. On average, it takes workers 28 days to recover from carpel tunnel syndrome – longer than is required to recover from an amputation!
Common workplace injuries affect soft tissue in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, blood vessels, and nerves. They’re caused by things like heavy lifting, working in postures that are too high or too low, and repetitive motions, to name a few. Even incorrect hand placement while using a mouse or keyboard can pose a potential ergonomic issue. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as there are alternatives to every activity to create a healthier way to work.
Alternatives to lifting items can include using carts or other mechanical assistance. Storing heavy items in locations that do not require bending or reaching also helps. In the case of work that’s too low (work that is hard on the knees or back) or too high (work that occurs at or above shoulder height) you can use sit-to-stand desks, height adjustable chairs, or other ergonomic furniture. You can reduce repetitive motions, or the repetition of the same motion every few seconds for more than two hours a day, by spreading repetitive work out during the day and taking stretch pauses.
Overall, general principles of ergonomics indicate that working in a neutral position and at a proper heights, reducing excessive force and motions, and moving, exercising, and stretching at work regularly are best. Adjust your work area to fit your body and tasks and remember to switch positions and tasks often. Reporting any symptoms of injuries early is important and can help reduce or eliminate more severe injuries that may occur. By putting ergonomic changes into place, you can radically improve your work day and quality of life.