Ergonomic Tips for Workplace Safety and Wellness (Updated for 2023)

December 29, 2020

Historically, more than ever, there are now more adults sitting than in any other time in the past. According to the American Heart Association, jobs that entail sitting in one’s desk a majority of the time has increased 83% since the 1950s. This means that more and more sedentary-type of jobs are created and are taken on by the working population. On the other hand, jobs that involve having to be physically active only compose around 20 percent of the workforce according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Health Risks: Why Do We Need To Concern Ourselves With All Of These?

A study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 revealed that there is a high incidence of people spending most of their time sitting with low levels of engagement in physical activities. Statistics showed that among adults, 1 in 4 spend more than 8 hours of their day sitting, while 4 in 10 adults are physically inactive, and 1 in 10 adults fall under both categories.

In the same study, they found that if you engage in a high number of sedentary activities and have little to no physical activity, you expose yourself to an increased risk of premature mortality and several chronic diseases.

Researches have indicated that long periods of sitting have been linked to obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat, and irregular cholesterol levels.

Tips And Guide: What Are The Things I Can Do To Improve My Office-Related Health And Wellness?

With the health risks associated with this kind of work, researchers have made numerous studies to develop ways and means to improve wellness and safety for people in the workforce. Thus, workplace ergonomics was developed as a field of study.

Workplace ergonomics is the science of workplace designing that suits the workers’ capabilities and limitations. It keeps in mind that a poor working environment would lead to unproductive, overworked, and drained work personnel.

To avoid becoming overworked, unproductive, and fatigued, here are some tips and guidelines to enhance wellness, safety, and health at work, or home, for those with work-from-home arrangements because of the coronavirus pandemic:

1. Keep a neutral posture while sitting at work.

In the context of health and wellness, a neutral position is a way of keeping your body relaxed while in your workstation so that stress on your muscles, tendons and skeletal system is minimized. It also maintains alignment in your joints. In this manner, the risk of an employee developing a musculoskeletal disorder is minimized and there is an increase in range of motion.

Below is a list of six ergonomic ways of maintaining proper posture:

  • Rest your feet comfortably on the floor or use a footrest.
  • The chair seat should fully support your thigh and your hips should be angled at 90 to 110 degrees.
  • The natural curve of your neck should be supported with the backrest of your office chair.
  • With your elbows angled at 90 to 100 degrees, your upper arms should rest comfortably at your sides.
  • Make sure your head is not leaning towards one side of your body, it should be centered and upright in relation to your neck and shoulders.
  • To avoid straining your neck and back, avoid leaning forward in your chair.

Nowadays, many companies have turned to provide sit-stand workstations or standing workstations for their employees. This gives leeway for workers to switch from sitting down and standing up while working on their tasks. Keeping a neutral position while standing is also encouraged. This is to keep your body relaxed and not put undue stress on your muscles and bones. Here are the steps to retain neutral position while standing.

  • Rest your feet comfortably on an even surface.
  • The shoes you wear to the office should have insoles.
  • An anti-fatigue mat with bias-cut edges placed flat on the floor is where you should be standing.
  • Your knees should be kept relaxed and unlocked.
  • The upper part of your arms should be resting easily at your side and your elbow is angled at 90 to 100 degrees.
  • Your wrist should be held straight and not be placed and pressed into the edge of your work table.
  • So as not to put tension to your head, it should not be tilted to either side but be placed in the center and upright position in relation to your neck and shoulders.

2. Your office tools and equipment should be designed to give you a comfortable working space.

Most of your adult life will be spent working and there is a big chance that it will be in an office cubicle. You will need your workspace to help you achieve your work related tasks and not develop back pains, shoulder pains, painful joints, or sore fingers and wrists instead.

The key to a comfortable and relaxed work space is the execution of a proper work space design and utilization of correct office equipment and tools. Here are some tips and guidelines on the equipment and tools, along with their proper usage.

  • Desk
    Your desk is an essential part of your overall workstation. It is where your office equipment is placed. To ensure your desk is of the appropriate height, make sure that there is still sufficient space for when you want to place your knees, thighs, and feet under your desk. Make it a point to acquire a desk that can be adjusted, if not, and the desk is still too low with too little space underneath, you may place books or blocks under its four legs. Or you may also opt to adjust the level of your chair when it is not possible to place more stuff under your desk. This way, you can still have room to move and stretch your legs under the table.
  • Chair
    Since you will have to spend most of your working time sitting on a chair, select one that will provide the natural curve of your spine that much needed support. Your feet should be able to rest flat on the floor or on a footrest. If needed, you may have to adjust the height of your chair. Another thing that needs adjustment is the armrest. The armrest should allow your shoulders to relax. Adjustments might be needed to make your arms rest on them comfortably.
  • Basic objects
    There are things that we need in our day to day work and without them we will be unable to function fully and productively. Objects like telephones, pens, paper, staplers, or printed materials are needed at work. Thus, these should be kept at close distance. Make sure to place these materials close to your body or at least an arm’s length so that you can reach them anytime when needed. Do not force yourself into overreaching for one of those materials while sitting. Stand up if needed to get hold of these basic materials.
  • Keyboard and mouse
    The same with your basic objects, the mouse and keyboard should be situated somewhere in your counter that is within easy reach. Whenever you are using the keyboard and the mouse, don’t forget to keep both of your wrists straight, upper arms close to your body, and hands considerably lower than the level of your elbows. The use of keyboard shortcuts is advised so as to decrease mouse usage. It is also advisable to use a mouse with a sensitivity adjustment feature so you don’t need to exert so much effort in moving it around. You may also want to try and use your mouse alternately between both hands.
  • Telephone
    If your job entails the use of a phone for most of the time, then it is best that you either procure a headset or place your phone on speaker when talking to someone. Holding your phone by tilting your head and supporting it with your shoulder may cause strain to these body parts.
  • Monitor
    The placement of your monitor should be right in front of you when you sit down on a chair. It should also be an arm’s length away and located right behind where your keyboard is. The top portion of your monitor should be right at your eye level or just slightly below it. If you are wearing eyeglasses, adjust the monitor 1 to 2 inches lower so that you can view it comfortably. Situate your monitor in the area of your workstation that has the brightest light source to its side.
  • Footrest
    As mentioned above, the height of the chair matters a lot. You need a chair that you can rest your feet flat on the floor. If your chair is not adjustable, then you need a footrest. If you cannot get hold of a footrest, you can use some alternatives like a small stool or a pile of durable books.
  • Document holders
    As much as we want to go paperless with our office transactions and help save the environment, there will still be printed documents lying somewhere in your desk. If it is part of your job to look at printed documents, then you will need a document holder. This tool keeps you from bowing your head which will put a strain on your neck and back.

Ergonomics For Laptop Users

With the global health crisis that we are facing, many companies who have the capacity to do so have moved their operations online, or have given their employees the option to work from home. This is one way to help contain the COVID-19 virus and prevent their employees from contracting the disease while at work.

Employees who are working from home have the comfort of their homes for their office. However, the majority of these employees who are in a work from home arrangement are using laptops that have pressing ergonomic problems associated with them.

We all know what a laptop looks like. The monitor and keyboard are attached to each other, so you cannot make adjustments to either one of them. Either the keyboard is too high, which puts your wrists at risk, or, the monitor is too low, exposing you to the risking of developing neck pain.

Thus, to guarantee that such employees still follow guidelines for safety and wellness while working with laptops and tablets, the following are a few reminders:

  • Work on your laptop while it is on a desk. The couch may be comfortable but not for too long.
  • If possible, use a docking station so that you can close your laptop and connect it to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, which can be better adjusted for the sake of ergonomics.
  • You can also use a riser so you can adjust the height of your laptop to eye level. The external keyboard and mouse should be arranged in your desk that allows neutral positioning.
  • A riser for your laptop can be a small chair, a few blocks, or some sturdy books.

The goal here is to maintain a neutral position by following guidelines provided above even if you are working at home.

Move: We Shouldn’t Be Sitting All Day.

Even if you follow all the tips and guidelines to make your workplace ergonomic, you still need to move away from your desk from time to time. Why is this so?

We have already discussed the effects of spending so much time sitting down. Now, analysis of different studies have shown that the effects of extended sitting is countered by spending at least 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity. Therefore, you need more movement to better your health.

The question is, how can you incorporate movement while working?

The 20-8-2 Rule for Movement while Working

Dr. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, came up with the 20-8-2 rule which he called the “ideal work pattern”. This rule is very easy to do and follow. For every 30 minutes you spend at work, you need to allow 20 minutes of sitting, 8 minutes for standing, and 2 minutes for stretching or moving around.

When you have the chance to move or walk, please do so. Or, better yet, find ways how to incorporate walking and moving while at work.

Conclusion

Spending too much time sitting at work can take a toll on your health. The study of ergonomics has developed ways and means to create a safe and healthy workplace environment. However, that is not the only key to achieve wellness and health while working. We need to incorporate moving around or engage in physical activities to counter the ill-effects of extended sitting.

Disclaimer:

If you are experiencing health issues such as obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat, and irregular cholesterol levels, please consult a medical health professional. Do not attempt to self-diagnose and self-medicate by following only the tips and guidelines stated on this article and neglecting to visit your doctor. This article is written only to provide general information on basic ergonomics for your workplace.

Erickson, a certified Interior Designer and Ergonomist, has cultivated a unique career blending aesthetics, functionality, and well-being. Holding a Bachelor's degree in Interior Designfrom a prestigious institution, Erickson is well-versed in creating spaces that are both visually pleasing and conducive to human comfort and health.
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Valeria Valenzuela
1 year ago

Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing these details.

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