Guide to Improving Workplace Ergonomics
Having a safe workplace is essential for employees in any field. Working in an office can cause fatigue like work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) and eye strain. The issues that eye fatigue, repetitive motions and a sedentary workday might cause can be harmful to your employees and their productivity.
If your company wants to reduce strain and fatigue in the office, consider implementing an ergonomic workplace design. Workplace ergonomics improve the workstation to help employees perform their tasks more comfortably and efficiently. Learn more about how to improve ergonomics in the workplace in this guide.
What Is Workplace Ergonomics?
Workplace ergonomics is an approach to designing the work environment to fit the human body, not forcing employees into workstations that cause injury or strain. Ergonomics focuses on improving employees’ mobility and posture, reducing repetitive motions and limiting the force they have to use to accomplish a task.
This practice eliminates hazards and inefficient processes that cause physical strain or fatigue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ergonomic injuries occur gradually over time. These kinds of musculoskeletal disorders may be caused by overexertion or repetitive, awkward motions.
Ergonomics may also focus on other aspects of employee health and well-being, like encouraging employees to be active while at the office. Sitting all day can have multiple adverse health effects, including the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and deep-vein thrombosis. Workplace ergonomics provides employees with office furnishings that encourage movement.
In an ergonomic workplace, employees:
- Experience less strain and fatigue
- Increase their productivity
- Avoid work-related injuries
A more ergonomic design is one of the leading trends in office design for several reasons. Research shows that improving ergonomics in an office can improve productivity, reduce injuries and cut workers’ compensation costs. A more ergonomic office also demonstrates to employees that your company cares about their wellness, which can reduce turnover and attract new talent.
Top 6 Ways to Improve Workplace Ergonomics
1. Good Working Posture
How can employers go about increasing ergonomics at work? Having good ergonomics in the workplace starts with each employee’s working posture. In an office, employees likely sit at desks most of the day. It’s essential that they practice good posture to prevent muscle strain.
Some positions might feel comfortable for a while but will ultimately lead to strain or fatigue. However, some postures make employees uncomfortable right away. Employees should also monitor their posture throughout the day. Many people start to slouch after only a few minutes of sitting.
Proper working posture includes:
- Sitting in a chair or standing at a standing desk
- Feet planted flat on the floor
- Hands at or below elbow level
- Work-related items within easy reach
2. Adjustable Chairs and Desks
A good quality desk and chair are essential for reducing strain at work. Employees should be able to sit at their desks in a neutral position, with their arms and head level and relaxed. While at a standing desk, employees should keep their head, arms, torso and legs aligned.
An ergonomic sitting position is only possible if the employee’s chair and desk are at the proper height. One of the best ways companies can improve ergonomics in the workplace is with adjustable office furnishings like movable office chairs and desks.
With adjustable office seating, employees can alter the settings to position themselves comfortably. When employees can change their desks and chairs to various heights and positions, they can tailor their workspaces to their physical needs. This empowers employees to reduce their fatigue by creating a custom workstation.
Adjustable office chairs should include features like:
- Movable armrests
- Adjustable height
- Lumbar support
- Seat depth and angle
3. Proper Distance
All elements of an employee’s workspace should be spaced correctly and within easy reach. To create practical and functional workspaces, consider the placement and distance between each of these items:
- Laptop and computer monitor: Place computer screens directly in front of the employee at an arm’s length away. The top of an employee’s computer should be at eye level or slightly below so they avoid tilting their heads to see the screen. Employees should not need to turn their heads to see multiple displays.
- Keyboard: Employees should be able to type on their keyboards with their elbows bent at about 90 degrees with no shoulder tension. The shoulders, elbows and wrists should be aligned. Adjustable keyboards can also be helpful.
- Mouse: The mouse should be on the same level as your keyboard and within easy reach to prevent wrist fatigue. Rest your forearms on your chair’s armrests and your desk as you use your mouse and keyboard.
4. Workplace Environment
The overall environment of the workplace also affects ergonomics, so you’re most likely wondering how to improve workplace ergonomics in your environment. Employees are influenced by the environment around them, so it’s essential to make the office as conducive to deep work as possible. To create an ergonomic workplace design, consider these elements:
- Lighting: Lighting that causes a glare on computer monitor screens can cause employees to squint or develop poor posture. Choose a lighting system that gently diffuses light or opt for natural-looking light sources. If possible, use the natural light from windows or skylights.
- Temperature: Everyone has different temperature preferences. However, it’s important to choose a temperature and humidity for your office that makes the most people comfortable. Avoid keeping temperatures too low, as this can contribute to a higher occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders.
- Noise: Reducing workplace noise can prevent hearing damage and decrease productivity. Design different office workspaces that enable collaboration or provide privacy so employees can focus.
5. Ergonomic Accessories
Today’s employees have a wide array of accessories and equipment to help them perform their tasks more efficiently and comfortably. Ensure employees place accessories in such a way as to optimize the ergonomics of their workspaces:
- Footrest: Shorter employees might benefit from adding a footrest beneath their desks. A footrest can raise their legs to an ergonomic height and may help if they do not have an adjustable desk. The footrest should enable employees to sit with their knees at a 90-degree angle.
- Headset: Holding a phone for long periods can cause shoulder strain, but putting a caller on speaker might be disruptive to the rest of the office. Using a headset can save employees’ necks and free up their hands for typing.
- Document holder: If an employee has to read printed documents as they work, a document holder can help them keep their neck in a neutral position.
- Flooring: If employees stand on their feet for a large portion of the day, they shouldn’t have to suffer on bad flooring. Provide employees with padded anti-fatigue mats to cushion their feet while they stand.
6. Increase Motion
Perhaps the most crucial step in preventing workplace injury and strain is getting up and moving around. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but standing from the desk and moving around the office can significantly improve ergonomics in the workplace.
Once every hour, employees should get up from their desks and take a few minutes to move around. They can go to the restroom, get a drink, walk down the hall or look out the window — anything to get away from their desks.
Employees should also look away from their screens as often as possible to decrease eye strain. According to the American Optometric Association, the best way to reduce computer vision syndrome is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of work, employees should look 20 feet away from their computers for 20 seconds. This practice reduces eye strain and can help prevent headaches and neck pain.
How Can Workplace Ergonomics Benefit Your Business?
Consider the following ways that improving your workplace ergonomics can help your business:
How Ergonomic Office Designs Reduce Costs
One of the most significant positives of workplace ergonomics is that it limits the risk factors for injuries, saving companies considerable workers’ compensation costs.
Employee injuries impact the company’s overall profitability. For example, employee strains cost companies over $67,000 in direct and indirect expenses. Reducing workplace strains through improved ergonomics translates into considerable savings.
In a comprehensive review of 40 reports, offices using ergonomic interventions reduced injuries from work-related musculoskeletal disorders by an average of 61%. Improving ergonomics also led to an 88% reduction in lost workdays and a 100% reduction in restricted workdays. Overall, companies saw a 78% return on investment for their ergonomics interventions and a payback period of 0.4 years.
Workplace ergonomics benefits employees’ productivity as well. The goals of workplace ergonomics are to:
- Improve employee posture.
- Reduce movements needed for tasks.
- Enable employees to use less force to complete an action.
When an office improves its ergonomics, employees can work more efficiently. Employees can access the tools and areas they need with little physical strain and use fewer movements to do their work. In fact, research shows that better office ergonomics can increase productivity by 17%.
Ergonomics also improves productivity by allowing employees to work in the most comfortable position to reduce muscle strain. Sitting at work all day can lead to muscle fatigue, increased stress on the lower back and muscle deconditioning. You can also improve employee productivity through active furnishings like treadmill desks, bike chairs, adjustable height desks and yoga ball chairs to encourage physical activity while working. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), being physically active helps adults maintain better cognitive function.
Improves Quality of Work
The benefits of ergonomics extend from the employee to their work. Part of workplace ergonomics is eliminating hazards and making employees more comfortable. Employees who feel physically supported to perform tasks without muscle strain or fatigue can spend more time focusing on their work.
In contrast, employees who face fatigue in their office space may become frustrated and distracted from their tasks. Employees who have to strain to perform their work might also complete their jobs to a lower standard. Cutting corners can lead to other safety or quality issues.
Providing the right office layout and furnishings for your employees is essential to improving their quality of work. Workplace ergonomics reduce workers’ fatigue, aches and strains at the office. In a more comfortable environment, workers can redirect their attention to providing high-quality performance.
Increases Employee Engagement
Providing more ergonomic furnishings in your office can also promote employee engagement. An ergonomic workplace meets employees’ physical needs by giving them a comfortable place to work. Consider the ways workplace ergonomics can improve your employees’ interest and involvement in their tasks:
- Ergonomics removes distractions: Fatigue and strain take a toll on workers of every kind. Neck strain and backaches make it challenging to perform a task to the best of your ability. Employees can become more engaged when they no longer have to worry about the fatigue they experience at work.
- Ergonomics shows employees you value them: Employees are more loyal to companies that value them. Enhancing your employees’ health increases their satisfaction with their work, and your employees will notice your efforts to improve their well-being and safety. Improving workplace ergonomics can boost your team’s morale, leading to greater motivation.
- Ergonomics reduces absenteeism: Boosting ergonomics in the office can decrease absenteeism by 46%. By creating an environment that supports rather than hinders your employees’ everyday tasks, you make your office an inviting place — and your employees may even be more willing to go the extra mile on a job.
Creates a Better Safety Culture
Prioritizing employee health and well-being through workplace ergonomics shows that your company values safety. While the law may require your company to follow specific safety procedures, going beyond your obligations is a great way to demonstrate that safety is of first concern.
Emphasizing health throughout your entire organization — whether in the office, on the warehouse floor or in the manufacturing facility — develops a company culture of safety that positively impacts your employees. In an ergonomic workplace, the company educates employees about potential safety risks and empowers them to improve their health. Employers who provide a safe and healthy workplace enable employees to be and perform at their best.
Reduces Employee Turnover and Workers’ Compensation Claims
Benefits of ergonomics in the workplace also include reduced employee turnover and workers’ compensation claims. Improving office ergonomics can help you retain your employees. You can display how much you value them by providing them with the tools to be more productive, efficient and comfortable at work.
Creating a more comfortable work environment also helps you grow in other ways. Workplace ergonomics can help you attract the best candidates. Workers are increasingly looking for organizations that invest in them and provide the tools to achieve their personal best. Creating an ergonomic workplace demonstrates that you want your employees to be healthy, safe and productive.
WB Wood Can Help You Improve Ergonomics In The Workplace
When you’re ready to improve your employees’ health and comfort by investing in workplace ergonomics, partner with WB Wood. WB Wood provides companies around the United States with furniture procurement services, project management and office space design to create comfortable and practical workspaces.
Contact us to learn more about our human-focused solutions and discover how we can help you reimagine your office space.