Ergonomics (say "er-guh-NOM-iks") is the study of the kind of work you do, the environment you work in, and the tools you use to do your job. The goal of office ergonomics is to set up your office work space so that it fits you and the job you are doing.
When your workstation is set up right, you may:
It's common for injury and illness to happen at work. Both can cost you and your employer time and money. They can also affect how well you do your job.
Most on-the-job injuries are caused by:
Office ergonomics can help you be more comfortable at work. It can help lower stress and injury caused by awkward positions and repetitive tasks. It focuses on how things are set up in your office work space, such as:
Most injuries that happen at work are caused by physical stress and strain, such as sitting in the same position for a long time, making repetitive movements, and overuse. These injuries can cause stress and strain on your muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, blood vessels, and spine.
Symptoms can include pain in your:
You could also be at risk for problems such as tendinopathy and bursitis. These are caused by overuse and repetitive movements. Over time, these kinds of movements can make you feel bad. They can cause long-term health problems. And they use up your sick time.
You may be at greater risk for injuries at work if you have other health problems, such as arthritis or emotional stress.
Here are a few ways you can prevent injuries at work:
You can try home treatment for a few days when you first notice symptoms. Try to:
If you've tried home treatment for several days in a row and it hasn't helped, call your health care provider. You may need physical therapy or other treatment to prevent more injuries.
To help prevent another injury, review your work area. Be sure it is set up in the best way possible to fit you and the job your are doing. You may be able to get more information about workplace safety and ergonomics from your human resources department at work or from your state's Department of Labor.
Musculoskeletal, vision, and hearing problems are common in the workplace. By applying ergonomic solutions, you may be able to reduce physical problems and improve your comfort and ability to work effectively.
Your musculoskeletal system is made up of the structures that support you and help you move, such as bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Examples of musculoskeletal problems that may be related to ergonomic issues are:
Solutions. You can reduce your chances of musculoskeletal injuries and be more comfortable and efficient by setting up your workstation and work tools for your own personal needs.
Good posture will also help prevent musculoskeletal injuries.
If you have to lift, do not use a back belt. Back belts do not reduce strains or other injuries. And they may even increase your chance of injury by making you overconfident, so you try to lift more than you should. To lift safely:
To help prevent falls, keep walkways clear of cords, clutter, and spills. Close drawers completely after you use them. Use stepladders instead of chairs to reach high objects. Report any hazards such as loose carpeting or burned-out lights. And wear shoes appropriate to your job and environment.
Maintain good health through:
Good general health, including strength and flexibility, can help prevent injuries. It will also help you recover faster if you are injured.
Typical workplace vision problems include:
Solutions. You can reduce your risk of vision problems from improper lighting with:
It's also a good idea to have an eye exam every 1 or 2 years. If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, you may want to adjust your monitor so that you don't have to tilt your head back to see clearly. Or consider full-frame reading glasses for computer use. There are also progressive lenses available that have a reading prescription at the bottom, a mid-distance prescription that is good for computer use in the middle of the lens, and a long-distance prescription at the top of the lens. The lens has these three types of prescriptions in different areas of the glass and smooth transitions between types of prescriptions.
Noise can produce tension and stress and interfere with your ability to concentrate. And it can damage your hearing.
Solutions. You and your company can reduce your risk for hearing loss or other problems associated with noise levels with:
Ergonomics may prevent musculoskeletal injuries (such as back strain or carpal tunnel syndrome) by reducing physical and mental stress caused by the workstation setup. By focusing on the physical setup of your workstation and the tools you use, you can reduce your chances of injuries. It also is important to evaluate the work process, including job organization, worker rotation, task variety, and demands for speed and quality.
Working intensely over long periods of time without taking breaks can greatly increase your risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Taking regular breaks from your work and doing stretching exercises may reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries. Try taking 3- to 5-minute breaks-or changing tasks-every 20 to 40 minutes.
To improve your workstation:
If you do similar work or activities at home, be sure to apply these principles there as well to avoid the cumulative effect of repetitive motions.
To improve your workstation, choose workstation tools that fit your personal physical and comfort needs, such as:
Many people use laptop computers as secondary workstations. You should not use a laptop as your primary computer. Using a docking station that provides an adjustable keyboard can help keep your wrists in a neutral position to reduce stress and strain. If you use a laptop often, try the following to improve ergonomic factors:
Parents can apply all these ideas when children use a computer. To adjust a workstation for a child, you may want to:
If you have a musculoskeletal injury such as back or neck strain or carpal tunnel syndrome, try home treatment for a few days when you first notice symptoms. These steps are usually helpful in relieving discomfort caused by stress and overuse. Home treatment includes:
Home activities may contribute to workplace injury. For example, doing an activity at home that requires the same repetitive movements as at work may not allow your body time to recover. Also, driving long distances to and from work may contribute to workplace injury. Using special seat covers for added comfort (such as those made of wool or beads), carpooling, or using public transportation may help reduce this added stress.
Other treatments to relieve pain, prevent further injury, and return to normal activities include:
Surgery usually is not needed for injuries related to workstation design.
If you have tried the home treatment suggestions but your pain and discomfort have lasted for several days (for example, 7 continuous days), call your doctor. Health professionals who can diagnose and treat work-related injuries include:
You may be able to get help or information through:
Other Works Consulted
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (2012). Preventing back pain at work and at home. Available online: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00175&return_link=0.
- American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (2011). Prevention. In K Hegmann, ed., Occupational Medicine Practice Guidelines, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 1–16. Available online: http://www.acoem.org/APG-I.aspx.
- Driessen MT, et al. (2010). The effectiveness of physical and organisational ergonomic interventions on low back pain and neck pain: A systematic review. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 67(4): 277–285.
- National Institutes of Health, Division of Occupational Health and Safety. Ergonomics at work: Computers. Available online: http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/healthandsafety/ergonomics/atwork/pages/ergo_computers.aspx. Accessed May 2011.
- National Institutes of Health, Division of Occupational Health and Safety. Ergonomics: An ergonomic chair? Available online: http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/HealthAndSafety/Ergonomics/Pages/ergonomic_chair.aspx. Accessed May 2011.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (2008). Computer workstations checklist. Available online: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/checklist.html.
- Thomsen JF, et al. (2008). Carpal tunnel syndrome and the use of computer mouse and keyboard. A systematic review. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 9: 134. Available online: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2474/9/134.
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