The word “Ergonomics” came from two Greek terms intended to mean “work laws”. Today, we define ergonomics as the study of working practices – discovering methods to ensure that jobs physically fit the people working in them. The more we adapt our workspaces according to the concept of ergonomics, the more we reduce the chances of ergonomic stressors and disorders having an impact on our productivity, happiness, and health.
Ergonomics focuses upon the work environment – considering the design and function of tools, lighting, controls, displays, and workstations in fitting the physical requirements of the employee. Unfortunately, although numerous studies have proven how helpful ergonomics can be, many workers and employers still don’t understand how a lack of ergonomics negatively impact health.
What Can Happen If You Ignore Ergonomics?
Proper ergonomic design is an essential factor in maintaining physical fitness, and optimizing work-related activity. The study of ergonomics provides essential guidelines on preventing illness and injury, allowing for individuals to avoid issues such as repetitive strain and discomfort. Some of the most common injuries surrounding improper ergonomics include pain in the hands, wrists, shoulders, neck, back, head, and eyes. Perhaps the most worrisome areas for some people surround vision, and musculoskeletal problems.
The musculoskeletal system of the body is comprised of structures that help you to move – such as ligaments, tendons, joints, bones and muscles. MSDs related to work are one of the leading causes in the world of injuries and illnesses that lead to lost workdays. Regardless of the industry you’re in, plenty of different occupations expose workers to MSD risk factors – from working in awkward body postures, to performing similar or identical tasks repetitively. Some examples of musculoskeletal problems related to ergonomics include:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – an issue that effects the nerves in the wrist after repetitive pressure upon the nerve for some time.
- Bursitis – an inflammation of the small fluid sac that lubricates the areas wherein tissues, bone, muscle, skin, tendons, and ligaments rub against one another.
- Tendon Injury – damage to the strong fibers used to connect bone and muscle – most tendon injuries happen close to joints – such as around the shoulder, ankle, knee, or elbow.
- Muscle Strains – pain caused by overstretching muscles – usually around the back, neck, and shoulders.
Other Ergonomic-Related Health Issues
The problems of poor ergonomics in the workstation aren’t just restricted to musculoskeletal issues. Indeed, a significant portion of health-problems related to poor ergonomics stem from bad posture – a problem which most people overlook, but can lead to:
- Greater levels of stress – studies conducted by Harvard University discovered that people with better posture had 25% less cortisol (the stress hormone) in their systems.
- Decreased happiness – the way that you sit may not seem relevant to your mood, but science has shown that slouching, alongside the results of poor blood circulation, can have a significant impact on your happiness.
- Blocked digestion – sitting in a crunched-up position for extended periods of time folds up your intestines – leading to poor digestion and greater risk of stomach problems.
Many ergonomics-related injuries can happen gradually – over a long period of time, and often in a manner that means you don’t notice them until the discomfort has grown to a significant level. Various disorders arise from the impact of numerous small stresses and injuries to the body – referred to as CTDs, or cumulative trauma disorders. These particular issues are most common within the electronic work environment of today – wherein most people spend several hours a day hunched over a keyboard, or working at a computer. Poor posture and ergonomics are the leading cause of CTDs, but it’s also worth noting that there are several factors that can also speed up their development, including personal risk factors, inadequate recovery time, excessive force, repetitive motion, and contact stressors.
Those suffering from CTDs can begin to experience various symptoms within the affected area of their body, including pain, aching, and numbness, swelling and tingling.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
It’s easy to see that poor ergonomics can have a huge impact on your lifestyle and wellbeing. Fortunately, setting up your workstation doesn’t have to be a difficult task. For example, workstations that consist of screens and keyboards – such as computer desks, should allow for non-computer and computer work. The idea is to set up a station that is adjustable, allowing workers to change their posture according to their needs. Ergonomic offices should include adjustable display screens, flexible copy holders, proper lighting, adjustable and detachable keyboards, and of course, the right ergonomic furniture.
Have you suffered from any health issues as a result of poor office ergonomics in the past? If so, which changes do you think were the most beneficial for you? Let us know in the comments!