Ergonomics is a term thrown around a lot in the health sphere. I have to admit I find it a frustrating topic. It reminds me of dietary advice; you know –the eggs are bad for you, then they are good… Avocados are full of fat; but hang on, we now know it’s good fat…
In ergonomics, sitting is the new smoking (but I thought sugar was…). So then the stand-up desk was created to be the cure all. But soon stand-up desks all the time have their own issues. Next desks have to be adjustable to accommodate periods of standing as well as sitting. All the commonly used diagrams around sitting posture show 90 degree angles between back and thighs, although some research points more towards an angle of around 135 degrees. This triggers memories of the old kneeling stools from the ‘80’s – which tended to aggravate existing hip problems in some users.
I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe it has more to do with how long we assume any posture for. We are dynamic creatures and we are made to move. The science does agree that we are better off moving around, than staying still. I guess the closer we can get to mimicking that in a workplace, the better…
Ergonomics focuses on the design of spaces and products, as well as the creation and development of procedures and habits that are safe and compatible with the physiological requirements of human users. It accounts for human limitations, promotes musculoskeletal health and fosters injury prevention.
Ergonomics is particularly pertinent to the workplace, where conventions see employees working in stationary positions for extended periods of time. Ergonomically designed workspaces support employees’ ability to work effectively without compromising their health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, the area is often overlooked in favour of the immediately gratifiable; return on investment and employee benefits are such examples. Subsequently, organisations tend to address ergonomics reactively. That is, employee injuries and complaints create, or increase, awareness where it might otherwise remain on the backbench of the corporate agenda.
Unergonomic workspaces are not only detrimental to employees, but also to organisations; resultant injury can lead to absenteeism which can, in turn, lead to financial loss and decreased productivity. Placing ergonomics at the forefront of corporate culture fosters productivity and helps to alleviate injury related absenteeism and consequential compensation claims. It is also important to note that comfortable, healthy employees are far likelier to work more productively and effectively: a substratum of organisational success.
In entirety, the nation’s corporate sphere suffers significantly; further combine this facet with additional issues pertaining to health and safety and the numbers soar immensely. Safe Work Australia’s 2012-13 study found that “…work-related injury and disease cost the Australian economy $61.8 billion, representing 4.1% of GDP.”1 These figures alone should underscore the importance of the issue and propel it to the foremind of corporate Australia.
So, how can we emphasise the importance of ergonomics and swivel the approach of corporates from reactive to proactive? There are numerous ways, but, essentially, it comes down to educating employees and employers alike. Whilst employees can increase their knowledge of ergonomics, corporates can be further educated on the benefits, both financial and other, of initial implementation and ongoing regulation.
Not only are ergonomically designed spaces comfortable and healthy for employees, but they are also healthy for organisations. That is, employee attention is more likely to be retained for longer periods, leading to increased performance. Employees who have access to ergonomic spaces, and utilise them effectively, are also likelier to be happier than those without ergonomic spaces. If we analyse this with regards to employee attrition, we further understand its importance to, and benefit for, corporate success.
It is imperative that there is a collaborative approach taken towards workplace ergonomics, with employee and employer education being increased and ongoing. Incorporating checklists when onboarding and assessing workspaces annually are some examples of a continued commitment to combatting the prevailing issues and highlighting the importance of ergonomics nationwide.
For more information on maintaining a healthy spine, please visit the website of the Australian Chiropractors Association (ACA) at www.chiropractors.asn.au