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How ergonomics is changing the way we work

‘Ergonomics’, the study of people's efficiency in their working environment, has become an everyday word. These days, it seems like every company is looking at ways to improve output and health by altering employee workspace. From the simple to the extreme, ergonomics is improving the way we work, but what can SMEs do to take advantage of this trend?

Position yourself for success

Make no mistake - ergonomics is here to stay. The sedentary office lifestyle of sitting in front of monitors for hours at a time and tapping away at keyboards is not only bad for health, but harmful to employee efficiency, too. It is estimated that 1 in 5 sufferers have had to take time off work in the last year as a direct result of such health problems. On average, this is 14.4 days per sufferer in the last 12 months, costing UK businesses a staggering £7bn per annum (Source: Dynamic markets research commissioned by Fellowes). Clearly, ergonomics is a valuable issue.

Over the last few years we’ve seen it all – from adjustable workstations that can be raised from a sitting position to standing, to Google’s ‘sleep pods’ that let employees take a quick power nap at work, and even the somewhat impractical treadmill desks that let you work and walk at the same time. The future of the office environment is set for dramatic change, but for most companies, simple ergonomic improvements are the main priority.

Why Ergonomics is important to all business

UK employees spend an average 6.7 hours a day at a computer, laptop, or tablet. All this sitting and typing is bad for our health which reduces concentration and effort, often leading to sickness absence.

The health consequences of prolonged sitting include obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, poor or low mood and a predisposition to diabetes. It’s no wonder that employees work harder and are more motivated at work when their employers demonstrate an interest and investment in their wellbeing. And there is evidence to say FTSE companies which report on health and safety outperform those that don’t by 10% (Source: Ipsos Mori and BITC 2010). The question is: how can SMEs incorporate ergonomics into everyday working practices and reap the obvious rewards.

How to set up an ergonomic work environment

There are simple steps you can take to help your employees ditch the bad habits and poor practices that lead to discomfort and long term pain. The first is to have a professional come to your office and take a work based assessment of your employee needs. Not only is this necessary for a healthy office but, according to EC Directive 90/270/EEC, it’s the law.

Increasingly, employees are taking legal action against companies which do not provide the right support. One famous example is of a former RAF data input clerk who sued the Ministry of Defense for an injury that affected her thumb. The individual was found to be suffering from De Quervain’s and was awarded £484,000 (Source: Repetitive Strain Injury Organisation).

Contrary to popular belief, it is the line manager’s responsibility to organise workstation assessments, not that of HR or Health & Safety. Fortunately, it’s in the interest of ergonomic specialists to do this for you, so with a bit of prior research, you can get a no-hassle assessment for free.

The Four ergonomic zones

Generally, office ergonomics focus on four key zones:

Zone 1: Prevent Back tension

The vast majority of people who regularly use a computer have poor posture that leads to back pain. Chairs that provide lumbar support at the right height and angle can nip this in the bud.

Zone 2: Avoid Wrist Pressure

People who spend a lot of time on the road, working on laptops and tablets often suffer from wrist pressure because their keypad or keyboard doesn’t support their wrist. Simple supports can relieve this problem.

Zone 3: Relieve Neck Strain

It’s surprising how many people look down at their monitors. By raising monitors to 17 degrees above eye height neck strain can be relieved, along with back pain and headaches.

Zone 4: Healthy Environment

Work often suffers from poorly managed desk spaces. The right ergonomic desktop accessories can make a big difference. Having clean and organised working areas with important items in easy reach keep employees more productive and focused throughout the day.

The take home message: business is constantly changing. Keeping abreast with these changes and learning how to take advantage of them is crucial for every company’s success.

For more information on ergonomics and how it could benefit you, give Paper Round a call. We’d be more than happy to help.

You can also view our range of office furniture here.

Adam Anson

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