The Importance of Ergonomics in the Workplace

The Importance of Ergonomics in the Workplace

The importance of ergonomics in office work

Why ergonomics shouldn’t be underestimated or neglected? This blog text focuses on the importance of ergonomics as a matter affecting overall well-being, especially in an office environment. This is something that might sound obvious, but it rarely is. Hanna Ojutkangas (an ergonomic expert from ErgoFinland) has also been interviewed for this blog.

 Who is responsible for taking care of workplace ergonomics?

Musculoskeletal diseases and related causes are the most common reason for doctor’s visits, right after respiratory infections. Sufficient, functioning citizens is the safety of all of us, which can be influenced by decision making. So, who is responsible for ensuring good work ergonomics? Of course, there are country-specific differences, but in Finland the employer is obligated to take care of the ergonomics of the workplace. In practice, good work ergonomics means that the structures, such as furniture, tools, environment and working methods, are fitting to the employees – taking into account the individual needs of each employee.

The occupational health care has an obligation to provide information in matter related to occupational safety and health, and if necessary, to carry out a workplace survey, which finds out matters related to workplace well-being – such as ergonomics. If necessary, they are also obligated to participate in the planning of needed changes in the work environment. Each employee, on the other hand, has on obligation to inform the employer of their own wishes and needs regarding work ergonomics and well-being.

  Ergonomics expert’s findings on office ergonomics

Hanna Ojutkangas works as an ergonomics expert (ErgoFinland Oy) and provides information on various furniture and ergonomic office supplies, finding individual solutions that suit the needs of the company and individuals. When asked where her attention has been drawn to when visiting offices, and what ergonomic issues aren’t usually taken into account, Hanna replied that she’s been happy to notice that in Finland height adjustable desks have become standard in offices, which enables changing positions and stopping prolonged sitting. However, according to Hanna, adjustable desks are often in sitting position and are not adjusted often enough to get the benefit that could be obtained. “During the workday, the height adjustable desk should be adjusted several times from sitting position to a standing position. People should work sometimes standing, sometimes sitting, sometimes using for example and active chair, or an office chair adjusted to the upper position, to have variability in working positions. While standing using the Gymba® Board to activate the whole body.” Hanna sums up.

 Office work and back problems?

According to Hanna’s understanding, office workers’ back problems are most commonly caused by excessive sitting, being stationary, and unilateral strain on the body. A bad office chair and inadequate ergonomics can also provoke back problems. Hanna points out that the employee’s own habits also play a key role: “You should get up from the chair at least every 30 minutes, and if the office chair is adjustable, you need to learn the adjustments so that the chair is properly adjusted for your body. If you stand for a long time on a hard floor, it can cause back problems and problems in the joints of the lower body. On a hard floor large muscle groups have to do static work and you easily stand in a bad position.”

Hanna’s ergonomic tips for the prevention of back problems and for those who suffer from them

  • Take care of good ergonomics
  • Learn to use ergonomic furniture and equipment correctly: learn the adjustments and use them
  • Before purchasing an office chair, try different chairs to find out the one that suits you
    • There are a lot of office chairs on the market that allow the natural movement of the body while sitting: office chairs, active chairs and office balls
  • It’s good to have a height adjustable desk in order to have variability in working positions. Some electrically adjustable desks also have memory, so that your own sitting and standing positions can be saved.
  • Work standing sometimes. Use the Gymba® Board or sometimes a standing mat to lighten the strain on the joints. 

The importance of ergonomics to the well-being of the work community

The prevention of musculoskeletal problems is of primary importance, as problems that occur once are easily reoccurring. The workplaces that focus on prevention and ergonomics in general typically have lower healthcare costs (such as sick days), and often employee turnover is also lower, because it is not just about individual ergonomic solutions, but a phenomenon that affects the entire work culture. When an employer invests in the work environment and ergonomics, it shows to the employee that they are valued, the employees are healthier and more productive. When an employee has the feeling of being valuable, commitment also increases.

How to build an ergonomic and comfortable work environment?

A good and ergonomic work environment is not only a good table and an ergonomic chair. The right kind of lightning, acoustics and interior design – such as houseplants – are of great importance in overall well-being in workplaces. A diverse workplace also takes into account people who work in different ways, and individuals have the opportunity to influence things as much as it is possible. Break exercising and an atmosphere that encourages an active lifestyle support employees in everyday choices as well influencing their overall well-being. For example, meetings can be decided to the held standing instead of sitting.

When purchasing office furniture, it is highly recommended to use experts – for example, the same office chair rarely suits everyone. A professional knows also take into account those things that you wouldn’t even know to think about. Physiotherapists on can give tips on maintaining physical function. When these services are used preferentially before problems start to appear, employers can manage with much lower costs.

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