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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
Among common musculoskeletal disorders are:
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.
As today’s workforce is increasingly turning to remote work, organizations need to ensure they can scale their ergonomics program to support this new environment. Many organizations struggle to transition their well-established ergonomic practices and standards to a home office ergonomics program. If programs fail to extend into the home or alternate work environments, long-managed problems, such as discomfort, declining productivity and employee injury, can emerge.
To help remote employees create an ergonomically friendly home office, consider offering the following.
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.
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.
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.