Implementing effective ergonomics into the workplace doesn’t have to be expensive; making simple but vital changes or readjustments can help keep employees happy and increase productivity, says occupational health specialist Dr. Sarah Peeters.

For those of you who haven’t yet read last months’ “Damage Control” article, let’s quickly recapitulate why poor ergonomics is costly for the company.

Ergonomics studies people at work, adjusting the job or task to the worker, not the other way around.  Why? Because working in an ill adapted environment can lead to stress, injuries and disorders associated with overuse of muscles and joints, with bad posture and repetitive tasks.

Health problems and stress can lead to sick leave and time off for doctor visits and other treatments.  Even before then, employees who are experiencing discomfort or pain at work are employees who are less productive and less efficient, notwithstanding the cost of healthcare and your steadily increasing insurance premium. In short, put people in a work environment that isn’t adapted to their physical capabilities and limitations and you’ll be losing money.

Perhaps you’ve already predicted how you can save money? In short, this can be done by making sure the ergonomics in your office are as correct as possible – prevention is key. Make sure your employees aren’t experiencing discomfort, aren’t at risk for injuries and aren’t developing health problems.

Spending a little money must also come into the equation. Rest assured ergonomics doesn’t need to cost a lot. The following tips explain how to improve ergonomics on a low budget:

The first step towards correct office ergonomics begins before the office is operational and before the employees start working:

- When starting or re-organising your office space, make sure the interior decorator (who you’re already paying anyway) takes good ergonomics into consideration. During my onsite ergonomic assessments, I’m often visiting impressive offices with exquisite furniture and gorgeous decorations.

However, employees complain because their desk is right underneath an air conditioning vent, or they have the reflection of the sun in their screen. Changing an existing layout is not as simple as making sure it’s correct to begin with. If your interior decorator isn’t confident with this matter, ask an ergonomist to look over the plans.

- Think about the furniture and office equipment you’re about to purchase. Do you really need that expensive, designer desk chair? Take a closer look at it and you’ll notice it doesn’t have any of the features ergonomic desk chairs should have. Instead, opt for good quality furniture that offers correct ergonomic solutions.

- The same goes for your IT solutions. Although laptops are necessary tools for employees who travel or work in multiple locations, they are a source of discomfort to the users with neck and back pain as main complaints. Notice how low the screen is and the position of your neck to look down to it. Choose desktops for your onsite staff. Alternatively, set up the laptop workstation with a laptop support so the screen can be at a better height and an extra keyboard.

When the office lay out is ready and the equipment and furniture is satisfactory, it’s time to check task performance and individual employees:

- Do a small assessment to highlight complaints and to identify the areas or tasks that are causing an issue.

- Get specialist advice. Ergonomists are there to help you. If you have only a few employees with work-related problems, ask for an individual assessment. The ergonomist will visit the employee in question to assess the problem and change the workstation if needed. Small changes to the chair such as its height, or the depth of the seat are always a huge success in dealing with discomfort.

- If you are already organising a wellness day or week, why not include a workshop on ergonomics?  This way you can reach all of your staff at once.

Dr. Sarah Peeters, occupational health specialist, based in Dubai

- And then the all-important tip: studies have shown that those working at computers have less discomfort with short, hourly breaks. However don’t misunderstand; I’m not talking about a 55-minute break every hour. A simple walk to the printer or even around the desk is sufficient!

In conclusion, have your office and staff set up correctly to see less work-related health complaints, more efficiency and productivity and you’ll be saving money. In the end, don’t we all want to be happy, healthy and safe people with little cost involved?

About

Dr. Sarah Peeters is a trained occupational health specialist physician, based in Dubai. She received her training at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, in 1990 and has since been working in Belgium and Dubai as a specialist in occupational health and safety.

She has been serving a vast number of different small to large companies, both corporate and industrial, which allowed her to gain extensive experience in her field. The OHS areas of specific interest to her are offshore health, travel health and office ergonomics. For more information please contact Dr. Sarah at occmeddubai@hotmail.com or call + 971 (0) 50 859918.

 

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