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Are you sitting comfortably? A guide to ergonomics in the office

We've all been there. Getting up from your desk after a long session spent hunched over your keyboard - you stretch and gasp in pain! Your body seems to have bent itself into an awkward pretzel shape, and you're wracked with niggly aches. Chances are you've been sitting in the wrong position, using a chair that's not been set up properly, and most certainly not following Ergonomics 101.

office worker

What is ergonomics?

If you're one of the whole host of other unfortunate people sitting awkwardly with their shoulders bunched up around their ears, then it's worth taking a minute or two to read about ergonomics.

According to The International Ergonomics Association, ergonomics incorporates many aspects, including design, psychology, and engineering, to optimise human well-being and general system performance.

Safeopedia refers to ergonomics as the study of people at work that aims to decrease the physical stress and subsequent injuries associated with working. These can be due to poor posture, more serious musculoskeletal disorders, or overuse injuries.

In simple terms, ergonomics aims to fit work to workers to make their jobs more comfortable, more efficient, and safer. And to avoid getting into those pesky pretzel pickles in the first place!

Some alarming ergonomics statistics

Several factors can lead to ergonomic pain. Millions of people worldwide suffer unnecessarily due to forced body positions, ill-planned office set-ups, and repetitive heavy physical activity.

Studies on ergonomics have revealed how critical it is to review your employees' working conditions. In the UK alone in 2020/21, 470,000 workers suffered from work-related musculoskeletal injuries.

Here are some additional eye-opening facts and figures:

  • Adults, on average, spend 43% of their time sitting and 57% standing on workdays
  • A healthy body can only tolerate being in a single position for around 20 minutes
  • Back injuries account for one in every five injuries in the workplace
  • 75% of the population will experience neck pain
  • Lower back pain is the most common musculoskeletal condition globally
  • In 2020/21, 16% had issues with their lower limbs, 39% with their backs, and 45% with their upper limbs or neck

Holding the same position becomes uncomfortable after some time. Stress builds up on one's back or legs, leading to pain and discomfort. These statistics add up to thousands of hours of lost manpower, which in turn has grave economic outcomes.

Who can benefit from better ergonomics

Poor ergonomics have serious consequences not only for an individual but for the whole organisation. Common injuries or accidents could be avoided if appropriate ergonomics were applied in designing people's jobs and the equipment and systems they use.

Ergonomics play a vital part in creating a workplace culture of health, wellness, and safety. It's safe to say that everybody can benefit from ergonomics. The most important step is identifying the risk and evaluating your condition to determine what action is needed.

Office workers

Some office workers sit in the same position for eight hours a day! Many will carry out physically restrictive or repetitive tasks as part of their daily jobs. Awkward seating positions, decreased movement and repetitive tasks lead to office workers incurring bad posture, repetitive strain injuries or even excruciating musculoskeletal disorders. Ergonomic office products can significantly reduce the risk of injuries developing.

Remote workers

The pandemic has seen an increasing number of employees work from home. According to this study on hybrid working, the proportion of employees who work remotely has risen from 13% in early February 2022 to 24% in May 2022.

Houses are not routinely built with an office environment in mind. Many remote workers function in inadequate spaces that don't provide the correct ergonomics. Over time, these people may suffer muscle pain, severe cramps, or repetitive strain injuries.

What are the health benefits of understanding ergonomics?

Decreased risk of pain and injury

Many of the most common injuries and musculoskeletal disorders experienced by office workers are caused by everyday activities, such as sitting in chairs or typing at a computer.

Boost mental health

By improving the ergonomics in your office and avoiding an impractical workspace, you could reduce employee stress levels allowing them to focus better on the tasks at hand. This is excellent for improving productivity.

Improve posture

Poor ergonomics could result in reduced blood flow to muscles or weakening of the spine and severely compromised overall posture.

Improved heart health

The design of an office chair could impact an employee’s breathing, directly affecting their heart rate and cardiac function.

Decrease obesity and diabetes

Ergonomists often encourage workplaces to provide employees with opportunities to become less sedentary and more active, thereby decreasing the risk of developing diabetes and obesity.

Eliminate hazards

An ergonomic office makes it easier for employees to move around conveniently without getting hurt. This reduces trips, slips, and falls.

What are the benefits of ergonomics for an employer?

  • Increased productivity
  • Reduce the cost of lost workdays
  • More efficient and productive employees
  • Improved quality of work
  • Reduced chances of facing fines due to employee negligence

Now you know what ergonomics is, who can benefit and why, it’s time to take a look at the how.

The right tools for the job

Whether working from home, in a corporate office in the city, or on-site doing more rigorous, manual work - the right choice of equipment is paramount. These days many businesses have specialised ergonomic teams or consultants who can select the correct chairs, desks, devices, and settings to support their employees' comfort at work. Sitting comfortably is by no means an "office perk" - it can be the make-or-break factor in the productivity, performance and success of an entire organisation!

From office chairs to desks and even specialised safety mats and flooring – there is a range of products that play an important role in ensuring your workforce is ergonomically optimised. From high-performance industrial environments to sleek corporate settings, many products can be tailored to suit your team's individual needs.

Anti-fatigue mats are excellent at insulating feet from cold, hard concrete floors. A high-back office chair with lumbar support makes for a super comfy sit when you're crunching those year-end figures or designing award-winning architectural masterpieces. Manufactured in the UK, ergonomic cantilever desks are available in three desk designs to ensure the ideal posture to avoid strain.

So, what are you waiting for? Don't err on the side of poor ergonomics - leave the human pretzel party tricks for a game of Twister!

Photograph of Debs

Author Bio -

Digital marketer, social media, content writer, musician, sloth-lover, tea-drinker.