What is the science of ergonomics?
“Ergonomics is a science concerned with the ‘fit’ between people and their work. It puts people first, taking account of their capabilities and limitations. Ergonomics aims to make sure that tasks, equipment, information and the environment fit each worker.”
The application of ergonomics is crucial for the health and safety of the workplace. Ergonomics can help prevent accidents, reduce the potential for injury or ill health and improve overall performance and productivity. This is done by taking into consideration how well the workplace and those working in it fit with each other. That is, how considerate is the workplace of the human factors?
So how can ergonomics be applied to the workplace? This blog post will investigate this further.
Despite the known association between ergonomics and physical wellness, Ergonomics covers all aspects including psychological wellness as well.
For instance, ergonomics requires you to consider the following factors: the work tasks to be done, the individual physical and psychological characteristics of the worker, and the organisation’s social environment. These factors include important questions like “What equipment is being used?”, “What is the physical environment like?”, “Would this staff member benefit from a different workstation than their colleague?”, “Does this staff member’s personality mean they might be better suited to deal with this kind of task?” and “What does the team structure look like?”. These are important questions to know about the workplace in order to create a safe and healthy workplace where the staff members are happy.
Of course, it’s important to distinguish between different types of workplaces. Not all workplaces face the same ergonomic challenges. Whereas a severe threat in an office may be the positions in which employees sit, this would be less likely to be considered a threat on a construction site. Furthermore, different individuals will also have individual needs. These needs are based on the individual’s body, physical strength, natural posture, knowledge, training and experience. As every person is different, these differences should be taken into consideration in the context of the workplace.
In terms of the equipment provided in the workplace, there are certain things employers can bare in mind when choosing this equipment. For instance, chairs, desks, and computer monitors should be adjustable to better fit the employee’s individual needs. It is also important that none of the equipment requires too much strained, repetitive or awkward motions.
Furthermore, employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks and have resources available to them such as access to healthcare, information boards about helpful stretches as well as mental health guidance.
Each workplace must adhere to rules and regulations for the safety of their employees, but going that extra mile and ensuring that your employees have everything they need will ensure a safe as well as a happy work environment.
Of course, there are also measures that can be taken by the employees to ensure they remain as healthy and safe as possible in the workplace.
For instance, employees should adjust their chairs so that their feet are laying flat on the floor with their knees at a 90° angle whilst their back is supported by the back and seat pan. It is also important to remember to take regular breaks and not remain seated for too long periods of time. Computer monitors should be about an arms-length away from the user and at eye level so that there are no excessive neck movements necessary. Keyboards should be at a slight tilt and at a comfortable distance from the employee and the computer mouse should be within easy reach and preferably be assisted by a wrist or palm support.
One trend has been the increase in standing desks in offices. The goal of having standing desks is to alleviate some of the issues that long-term sitting may have on the employees. The idea is to give employees the option to work standing up. It should be noted that, in implementing standing desks, there are still certain things to keep in mind: first, all employees may not feel that standing desks are a good option for them, so it is important to provide options to sit or stand. A good idea is to introduce height-adjustable desks rather than having some standing and some sitting desks in the office. These also allow for less space to be taken up by the desks. Secondly, considerations should be made to the new challenges that may appear as a result of standing desks. For instance, light placements could now cause glares and shadows to appear on computer screens.
Although ergonomics is typically associated with the physical aspects of a workplace, it does also include concerns regarding mental health practices. The mental health of employees is an extremely important factor in any workplace and should always be considered to the same extent as the physical work environment. It is crucial that employers and employees alike understand the causes and symptoms of ill mental health, understand what can be done to prevent ill mental health in the workplace, and provide practical support and resources.
Project HSS provides courses on managing mental health in the workplace: click here for more information and to learn what you can do to ensure good mental health in the workplace.
How to implement ergonomics in your workplace
So how should you go about implementing ergonomics in your workplace? As checking for human factors is part of a normal risk assessment, a consultancy should be booked with professional businesses that provide this, such as Project HSS. However, there are steps that you can take to asses the business as well:
First, you should ask your employees what they might feel they are missing in the workplace. Collaborating with the people that are actually working in the office every day is a great starting point. Make it clear that employees can suggest changes and will be heard if they have any suggestions for improvements. Overall, workplaces that involve their employees in decision-making regarding their health and safety, are much happier and safer.
It is also important to do hazard spotting. This is simply walking around the workplace with the intention of identifying any potential or existing health and safety hazards. It is a good idea for several employees to have the ability to hazard spot, as this means that more potential hazards will be spotted in good time.
Reviewing the causes for ill health in the workplace is also a good idea. Are there patterns to the illnesses or the people getting ill? Can more preventative measures be taken to protect employees from these patterns? Asking questions like these can lead to measures being put in place that can put a stop to some of the patterns, and make the workplace safer.
So what should you do if you think you’ve spotted a potential hazard in your workplace? Many times, the hazard may be easy to spot and then prevent by yourself. However, booking a risk assessment with professionals such as Project Health and Safety Services is also a good idea. Checking for human factors problems is part of your normal risk assessment process. This is a good idea as there may be bigger hazards that are not as easy to spot or that are more difficult to prevent.
Of course, it should be noted that each workplace will have its individual challenges and health and safety threats. Because of this, it is important to arrange a workplace analysis that is specific to your workplace. Contact Project HSS to receive a tailored consultancy from our experts and find out what specific threats your workplace must tackle to provide the employees with a safe and happy workplace.