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What Is Office Ergonomics?

An Overview on Office Ergonomics

Office ergonomics refers to the scientific design of a workspace to fit an employee's unique capabilities, limitations, and even job tasks. This practice applies physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics to best determine how employees should position their body within their work environment to prevent discomfort and injuries. Factors such as an employee's height, weight, sight, and feel all come into the equation when developing ergonomic solutions in the workplace. 

With the right ergonomic design, workers can avoid developing repetitive strain injuries as well as musculoskeletal disorders, which are common in the office environment. Many organizations rely on specialized ergonomic office equipment and furniture, such as chairs, desks, and computer equipment to keep employees comfortable and safe, but that's just one solution.

Today's most forward-thinking organizations also embrace ergonomic software to better understand employee risk and prevention data while empowering employees to proactively take control of their health in the workplace. With robust ergonomic assessment software, organizations can support a healthier workforce by offering self-guided training and assessments, treating discomfort with case management, and driving improvement through analytics. When this proactive, preventive data is paired with ergonomic-friendly office equipment, organizations can effectively provide the safe workplace employees need to thrive.

Why Is Office Ergonomics Important?

Protect Employees With Better Ergonomics

Of course, protecting employees' overall well-being is simply the right ethical move, but beyond a company's moral responsibility, providing a safe office environment comes with a strong business case that has a direct effect on an organization's bottom line. An organization's most important asset is its employees. High-functioning employees drive organizational success, but if those employees have to work through discomfort, their output is bound to suffer. This could also lead to more unplanned absences, which could hurt an organization's ability to meet important goals and deadlines. 

With a proper office ergonomics program in place, organizations can proactively protect their employees from injuries that hurt their job performance, which has a wide-ranging effect on multiple fronts. By keeping employees healthy through an office ergonomics program, some of the major benefits include: 

  • Productivity: Providing employees with a comfortable and safe work environment allows them to perform more efficiently and removes barriers that keep employees from doing their job. Employees in this kind of environment can produce more and don't have to take time away from work because of injuries.
  • Improve employee performance: Along with increased productivity, an employee who isn't distracted by injuries or an uncomfortable work environment can better focus on the task at hand. These workers are less likely to overlook mistakes and miss important deadlines. 
  • Cut organizational costs: The C-suite is always looking for ways to cut costs, and implementing an office ergonomics program helps organizations reduce spend on not only workers' compensation claims but also on long-term health care costs. Many ergonomics-related injuries come with chronic pain, which adds up over time. By preventing these injuries from ever happening in the first place, employers can better control those expensive health care costs.
  • Create a trusted, engaged work environment: When employees see their employer values the health and safety of the workforce, it increases morale, encourages program participation, and creates a deeper sense of community. A happier workforce also means less turnover in the long run for yet another cost-saving measure for organizations.
  • Protect organization's reputation: Today's consumers demand more social awareness from the companies they support, and how they treat employees plays a big role in their perception. If injuries plague an organization's workforce, the company could find itself in the midst of a public relations nightmare.  

What Are the Major Office Ergonomic Risk Factors?

Underlying Causes of Ergonomic Injuries

An ergonomic risk factor is a work condition that places physical stress on the employee. This physical stress can potentially lead to common ergonomic injuries, so identifying these ergonomic hazards can play a huge role in preventing injuries. Protecting workers from these ergonomic risk factors helps employers maintain a productive, motivated, and engaged workforce. 

To proactively provide employees with a safe work environment, here are some major office ergonomic risk factors employers should monitor:

  • Awkward sitting positions.
  • Sustained postures.
  • Repetitive motions.
  • Poor lighting.
  • Temperature extremes.
  • Insufficient breaks. 
  • Heavy lifting.

What Are the Most Common Ergonomic Symptoms?

Recognize Early Ergonomic Warning Signs

In the office environment, organizations across many industries typically see the same common ergonomic symptoms plague the employee population. With these same ergonomic symptoms popping up, it's important to know how to correctly identify early warnings for the most effective office injury prevention. This allows organizations to quickly offer corrective treatment to suffering employees as well as preventive solutions to employees who have not yet shown these ergonomic symptoms. 

The most common ergonomic symptoms in the office include:

  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers.
  • Joint swelling, stiffness, or inflammation.
  • Muscle weakness, tightness, spasms, cramping, or pain.
  • Shoulder, neck, or back pain or discomfort.
  • Range of motion or grip strength loss.
  • Shooting or stabbing pains through the arms or legs.

What Are Repetitive Strain Injuries and Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Proactively Protect Employees

When employees are subject to a poor office ergonomic setting, they often suffer from repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. All that awkward sitting, hovering over a keyboard, mousing, and staring at a monitor eventually take their toll, which is when these repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders can develop and bring long-term effects. 

Repetitive strain injuries include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. 
  • Bursitis.
  • Tennis elbow.
  • Tendinitis.
  • Tenosynovitis, also known as wrist tendinitis.
  • Ganglion cysts.

Among common musculoskeletal disorders are:

  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Chronic back or neck pain.

How to Conduct an Ergonomic Evaluation in the Workplace

Proactively Protect Employees

As organizations look for ways to implement an effective office ergonomics program, conducting an ergonomic evaluation is a necessary, foundational step. An ergonomic evaluation gives a systematic view of where risks lie in an organization. With this kind of clarity, organizations can better prioritize their efforts, offer the right solutions, and track progress to reduce repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.   

Here are the three critical steps to conducting an ergonomic evaluation in the workplace. 

1. Identify and measure risks through employee data: To identify this risk data among employees, organizations can use employee self-assessments, training, device usage data, and discomfort reporting. With this information, organizations can identify high-risk employees and then offer customized prevention solutions, such as providing ergonomic work stations, individualized education for self-correction, and access to ergonomic specialists.

2. Proactively support ergonomic initiatives through case management: Using a case management strategy ensures employees receive the necessary treatment for their injuries and helps injured employees maximize their productivity if they’re still working on-site. For workers who must take time away from work, case management can help them develop a return-to-work plan and keep those workers connected to the workplace. Not only does this help those employees work toward recovery but it also cuts the expenses that come with absenteeism. Ultimately, leveraging management leads to improved outcomes, visibility, and oversight. 

3. Use analytics to continually drive improvement and measure ROI: Implementing an ergonomics program in the office isn't a one-time initiative. Once strategies are in place to help employees, organizations need to track these actions and identify what worked well and what didn't. From here, organizations can adjust their strategies to optimize results and measure the impact to report to senior management. 

Implementing OSHA Ergonomics Standards

Crucial Ergonomic Program Elements

OSHA, which operates under the U.S. Department of Labor, exists to ensure a safe working environment by setting and enforcing standards as well as providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. Given its focus on worker safety, musculoskeletal disorders have been a major concern for OSHA. To help reduce the number of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace, OSHA has released numerous ergonomics standard guidelines over the years

  • Provide management support: Management must show strong commitment to an organization's office ergonomics program by defining clear goals and objectives, discussing these items with employees, assigning responsibilities to designated staff members, and clearly communicating with all employees.
  • Involve workers: An engaged workforce is necessary for organizational success. Employers should empower employees to identify and provide information regarding workplace hazards and share their ideas for reducing risk and evaluating the corporate ergonomics program. 
  • Provide training: This keeps employees informed about ergonomics and its benefits, which also helps employees better understand the importance of early reporting. For the most effective training, it should be conducted in a language and vocabulary that all workers understand by ergonomic experts within the organization's specific industry.
  • Identify problems: Not only does this mean identifying existing problems but it also means taking a proactive approach in pinpointing and assessing potential ergonomic problems. Organizations can do so by observing workplace conditions and processes, conducting ergonomic job analyses, giving workplace surveys, and interviewing workers.
  • Encourage early reporting:  This has multiple benefits, including limiting injury severity, improving treatment effectiveness, reducing the chance of disability or permanent damage, and lowering workers compensation claims. In doing so, employers can correctly identify high-risk work areas or specific tasks. 
  • Implement solutions to control hazards: Some of these solutions include modifying existing equipment, changing work practices, and bringing in new ergonomic tools or devices. With these changes, organizations can reduce physical demands, unnecessary movements, injury rates, workers' compensation costs, and employee turnover. 
  • Evaluate progress: This helps assess an office ergonomics program's effectiveness as organizations strive toward continuous improvement and long-term success. In the beginning, assessments should determine whether goals have been met as well as success of the implemented ergonomic solutions.

Why Using Ergonomic Assessment Software Helps Meet Organizational Goals

Improve Results With Ergonomic Assessment Software

Ultimately, implementing an office ergonomics program helps keep employees safe, happy, and productive, which, in turn, can reduce organizational costs on several fronts – if managed correctly. Tracking all the details that come with managing an office ergonomics program is no easy task. Even the most organized spreadsheet can't effectively stay on top of all the potential risks, ongoing cases, preventive measures, and analytics, especially spanning across multiple locations.

For organizations that are serious about implementing a well-run office ergonomics program, investing in ergonomic assessment software is a must. With ergonomic assessment software, organizations can gain better visibility, offer improved solutions, and track results more effectively. Here are just some of the benefits of using ergonomic assessment software. 

  • Prioritize and focus efforts: Ergonomic assessment software identifies high-risk employees and jobs, allowing employers to better target where their priorities lie. This creates a more efficient process for providing the workforce with ergonomic solutions
  • Engage employees and provide education: Leveraging ergonomic assessment software encourages employees to take an active role in their own health. This software offers educational tools to help employees change their high-risk behaviors. With this kind of empowerment, employees can address their behavior before discomfort and injuries even develop.
  • Communicate across multiple locations: Whether employees work in different corporate offices or are scattered remotely, ergonomic assessment software can reach employees at all locations, making for a more streamlined solution.
  • Easily demonstrate ROI: Ergonomic assessment software is all about analytics. From identifying risks to managing solutions, software can track it all, which makes it simple to measure ROI. This can help organizations identify where they're succeeding and where they need to improve.

Looking to Implement an Office Ergonomics Program?

Organizations of all sizes and resources face challenges creating and maintaining an effective office ergonomics program, but with the right strategy in place, organizations can develop an ergonomics program that leads to reduced risk.

Download your "Four Steps to Implementing an Effective Office Ergonomics Program" guide to better understand what it takes to put an ergonomics program into action. 

Get the Guide to Implementing an Office Ergonomics Program