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Ergonomics article in_edge


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Article in Edge Magazine describing how an ergonomic approach can prevent bad backs and stress in the workplace.

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Ergonomics article in_edge

  1. 1. ERGONOMICS | WELLBEING or all the particularly as muscular complaints F technological are exacerbated by stress. It can also wizardry and home mean they take time off to recover comforts of 21st or seek out treatment, which has an century Britain, we’re impact on productivity. putting more strain on our bodies than LONG TERM INVESTMENT ever before. Many of All of this has helped turn us spend our working ergonomics (the study of equipment hours hunched over workstations designed to fit the human body or conference tables. In between and its movements) into a thriving meetings we might eat lunch at our industry, with many companies now desks, check emails on smartphones offering workplace assessments and or tap away on laptops perched on ergonomically designed furniture. our knees. If we’re really lucky, we But the cost of all this is outweighed might have a few hours slumped in by the expense of employees taking front of the television at the end of time off sick later, argues Ian the day. Fletcher-Price, CEO of Posturite. His The cumulative effect of this company design and manufacture lifestyle is inevitable. Carpal tunnel posture-improving products, as syndrome (a form of repetitive well as providing training and strain injury that affects nerves in consultancy for organisations such the wrists), lower back pain, ‘text as HSBC, Virgin and IBM. neck’ and other musculoskeletal “Our clients have the driver problems are all common of employee wellbeing and complaints in workplaces across the productivity, rather than some country. Research from the British purchasing departments who just Chiropractor Association found that see ergonomics as a cost,” he says. 36% of the nation is suffering from “Often, they don’t see the long-term back or neck pain – up from 32% benefits. And it doesn’t necessarily in 2010. require intervention. Sometimes “A big problem in modern it can be a simple workplace life is that we spend the majority assessment, teaching employees how our day sitting down,” says Tim to hold their mouse or position their Hutchful, spokesperson at the British computer – education is key.” Chiropractic Association. “What While many small businesses most people don’t realise is that puts can’t afford vast amounts of money twice as much load on the spine as for specially designed furniture, standing. And if you use your arms firms can make an impact while in an unsupported position each day, working within their budget. “With stretching out to a poorly placed any business, you’ve got to cut your mouse or keyboard, that causes cloth to what you can afford,” says problems too. The average weight of Hutchful. “For instance, there are the human arm is between six and companies that produce ergonomic eight pounds, which increases the seats for £2,000 – they’re fantastic stress on your neck and shoulder. but expensive. But you can go If you use your spine the way it’s somewhere else and get a chair that designed and line up your ear, has nearly all the same adjustments, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle, you’re but is less than £50. It’s not always virtually incompressible. But we true that the more expensive the don’t tend to use it like that when seat the better. They just need to be sitting at our desks.” adaptable to people’s body shapes, The problem can lead to rather than static, and suit their employees feeling miserable, monitor, mouse and desk.” distracted and exhausted at work, Nowadays, of course, there january/february 2012 Edge 04342-47_Edge_Jan-Feb_12.indd 43 20/12/11 17:13:11
  2. 2. WELLBEING | ERGONOMICS A BRIEF GUIDE TO OFFICE POSTURE INDEX A Your head should be directly above your elbows rather than bent forward. Shoulders should be relaxed and the upper body lined up with your hips. B Your arms should be flat and your elbows level with the desk. Always use a seat with arm rests. C Make sure your spine is straight and that you are sitting right back against the chair. Sitting at an angle of 110 degrees lessens the load on the spine. D Your knees should be bent and your feet flat on the floor. E The keyboard should be positioned slightly below the elbows, and the desk should be level with your naval. F Your screen should be directly in front of you, ideally about an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen at eye level. ILLUSTRATION BY SON OF ALAN 044 Edge january/february 201242-47_Edge_Jan-Feb_12.indd 44 20/12/11 17:13:28
  3. 3. ERGONOMICS | WELLBEING are legal frameworks about problem is lugging around laptops. ❞ workplace ergonomics, with Even though laptops are lighter employers obligated to carry out nowadays, they’re not small for risk assessments and reduce the engineers. They also tend to come REGARDLESS OF THE dangers of issues such as manual in bags that put strain on your LAW, MANAGERS HAVE handling and displacing equipment. shoulder, rather than backpacks, A RESPONSIBILITY TO But it seems that many of the which isn’t good for your back.” EU directives are vague at best. However, it would be wrong to PROTECT EMPLOYEES “They’re woolly and not really assume that all technology is bad for FROM THEIR OWN enforced,” says Hutchful. “They posture, says Tom Stewart, executive BAD POSTURE HABITS ❞ cover office spaces in general and chairman of System Concepts, use language like, ‘lighting must a consultancy that specialises in be adequate’. What does adequate ergonomics and the relationship mean? If you’re short-sighted, your between people and technology. definition of adequate is different “Electric height-adjustable desks are from someone with 20:20 vision.” an obvious example of something that is ergonomically designed and LEADING BY EXAMPLE makes use of the latest technology. Regardless of the law, managers And devices like the iPad mean have a responsibility to protect that people can move about, change employees from their own bad posture and not be fixed at a posture habits by encouraging keyboard or screen the whole time. them to take regular breaks and For instance, Apple Store employees follow workplace assessment aren’t stuck behind a counter but AVOIDING BAD BACKS advice. Managers should also use an iPad to roam around and be aware of ergonomics ‘best interact with customers throughout 1. Don’t ignore your posture just practice’ guidelines. Yet employers’ the store. Ergonomics is mainly because you aren’t in the office responsibility only goes so far. preventative. It is about designing If working on a laptop from home, “You can’t be a nanny state,” things – products, systems, services use an external mouse and make insists Hutchful. “You’ve got to or environments – which suit people sure your laptop is at eye level. give people the information but it by taking account both of their works two ways. I’m very aware capabilities and their limitations.” 2. Think about it early on that if you make everything the Get involved in ergonomic details employer’s responsibility, everyone USE YOUR TOOLS early on in an office move or redesign will say, ‘Oh, the employer didn’t Dobbins has seen how technology to avoid costly retrofits later. provide me with this.’ But there has helped her staff too. “We used are plenty of people out there who to have engineers hurting their 3. Keep checking on progress might have the right chair and are backs doing manual handling, Make sure you’re running shown how to use it properly – and especially as some people have workstation assessments that they actually just use it as they want the perception that they can easily follow legal frameworks and best to. So the employer can’t be liable lift 25 kilos. But we’re now trying practice guidelines. for everything.” to eradicate manual handling and The personal responsibility of use mechanical methods of lifting 4. Step away from the screen employees is particularly true now wherever possible.” Encourage staff to take regular that working culture has changed, All of this is only a small part breaks from their computer – and with an increasing number of of the wider field of ergonomics. take them yourself. people working from home or ‘Ergonomics’ literally means ‘fitting checking emails on the move. a task to man’, and the field also 5. Be aware of your own posture Melissa Dobbins, project takes in everything from making Make sure your chair is adjustable, manager at heat transfer company sure mobile phones and websites and follow the posture guidelines on Alfa Laval, is one of many managers are as accessible as possible to the our illustrations (p44). whose staff often work at home. layout of supermarkets. It means “Increasingly you have to be that ergonomics plays an important 6. It all adds up available almost 24 hours a day, role in linking environment Be aware of the cumulative effect either by laptop or by iPhone, and and technology, and is of equal of bad posture – all those aches and you’re too busy with emails flying importance to both a company’s pains can add up to real problems back and forth to think about employees and customers. in later life. your posture,” she says. “A big Stewart says that many senior january/february 2012 Edge 04542-47_Edge_Jan-Feb_12.indd 45 20/12/11 17:13:37
  4. 4. WELLBEING | ERGONOMICS ❞ COMMON OFFICE COMPLAINTS Problems with posture and December and February. The Seasonal IT’S ONLY MORE musculoskeletal issues aren’t Affective Disorder Association (SADA) RECENTLY, PERHAPS the only disorders in offices across the country. Here are a few more say it’s a problem brought on by a biochemical imbalance in the brain IN THE LAST DECADE, common complaints due to the shortening of daylight THAT THE LINK BETWEEN hours and lack of light. It can affect BAD BACKS AND BAD Sick Building Syndrome Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is those who work in offices all day, away from natural light. Symptoms WORKPLACE POSTURE the name used for a number of include a feeling of despair, insomnia, HAS BECOME MORE illnesses and afflictions brought fatigue and a difficulty concentrating. OBVIOUS ❞ about by employees’ place of work. According to SADA, 7% of the UK The syndrome can manifest in the population suffer from the condition, form of itchy eyes, throat and skin; with 17% having the milder form of photosensitive reactions; dizziness subsyndromal SAD or ‘winter blues’. and sickness; and fatigue. Any Light therapy is the most popular number of symptoms can appear form of treating the condition, which together, or alone, and usually involves exposing sufferers to bright improve or disappear altogether light for up to four hours a day. backs and bad workplace posture when leaving the building. Most has become more obvious, as you’ve cases of SBS occur in open plan Repetitive Strain Injury been aware of people taking time off offices. Faulty air-conditioning is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), which with a bad back.” often thought to be to be blame is also called work-related upper Part of the reason that there for the condition, but the precise limb disorder (WRULD), is a general is more of an awareness of causes can be difficult to pinpoint term used to refer to pain in muscles, musculoskeletal problems is because and can include poor ventilation, tendons and limbs caused by managers suffer from the conditions low humidity, ozone produced by repetitive movements and overuse. themselves. Whereas they were photocopiers and printers, chemical Usually associated with people who once sheltered from the problem, pollutants and even poor lighting. work on computers or whose work with tasks like writing letters or involves doing one particular item spreadsheets often carried out by Seasonal Affective Disorder repeatedly for a long period of time. typists or data analysts, they are now Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) One in 50 workers in the UK has likely to spend much of their day is often described as a ‘winter reported having an RSI condition at and evening fixated on their PCs, depression’ that sets in between some point in their career. smartphones or tablets. In fact, Stewart thinks managers are one of the most likely groups to suffer from problems such as managers don’t realise the been delivered, that could be a big bad backs. “The more senior you importance of getting involved in issue. Senior managers need to get are, the less likely you are to have a company’s ergonomic policies involved in the detail earlier on.” an attitude of ‘I must take a break at an early stage. He thinks it because I’m entitled to it’. You’re shouldn’t simply be an issue left CLUED UP MANAGERS more likely to say, ‘I’ll just knuckle to other people or departments as There is at least a wider awareness of on and get this forecast done’ – and it can lead to costly and disruptive workplace posture and ergonomics a couple of hours later you’ll have ‘retrofits’ later down the line. “One than there once was. Dobbins says done your back or shoulders in. In of the difficulties is that ergonomics that her company now places more some ways more junior people are issues might seem small and part emphasis on workplace assessments, better off as they might have had of the detail, and senior managers training and design than ever before. something imposed on them, so aren’t aware of these issues early “Companies now have to be seen they’ll take regular breaks, whereas on,” he says. “By the time they are to be doing much more, and my senior managers switch off less. The aware of them, it becomes difficult company does thorough checks,” ‘CrackBerry’ mentality, where you to change a decision. If, for example, she says. “We are getting better than can never be away from your emails, your company has just ordered 50 we used to be – before, you’d never 36% of the nation is a huge problem for a lot of middle reported suffering furniture items for your office and really heard of the problem. It’s only from back or neck or senior managers. Being aware you only find out that they’re wrong more recently, perhaps in the last pain in 2011 – up of these things and taking sensible for your employees once they’ve decade, that the link between bad from 32% in 2010 precautions is very important.” 046 Edge january/february 201242-47_Edge_Jan-Feb_12.indd 46 20/12/11 17:13:48
  5. 5. ❝ ERGONOMICS | WELLBEING THE ‘CRACKBERRY’ MENTALITY, WHERE YOU CAN NEVER BE AWAY FROM YOUR EMAILS, IS A HUGE PROBLEM FOR A LOT OF MIDDLE OR ❞ SENIOR MANAGERS TOM STEWART Executive chairman at System Concepts Dobbins used to suffer from the problem herself. “I started getting numbness and pins and needles in the top part of my arm and shoulder. Adressing the problem involved a lot of chiropractor hours and a lot of money,” she says. “My chiropractor advised me on how I should be sitting, and gave me a note to pass on to my company to get a new chair.” CHOOSE CHAIRS WISELY While a chair that supports your back and neck is a good place to start, better chairs do not necessarily mean more elaborate chairs. Hutchful has a final word of caution for any manager tempted to get a luxurious-looking chair that marks out their seniority. “Some people choose to buy a director’s chair for their office – a big leather chair that tilts backwards. But they might actually be better off with an office chair or a typist’s chair that tilts forwards and has adjustable arms. Your chair might look prestigious Increasingly, employees are required to be available but it’s no use if it doesn’t allow you 24 hours a day on smartphones or laptops to do the job.” ■ For more exercises to help with posture, OFFICE EXERCISES TO STRETCH OUT YOUR BACK visit: ILLUSTRATION BY SON OF ALAN 1 Place your arms out to the side with your 2 Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders, and breathe in. 3 In the star position, with your stomach hands upturned. Make small backwards Turn one foot outwards and lean to that side, feeling the stretch. tucked in, at the naval gently turn to look at circles with your arms and hands, and pull With your knee over your ankle, lean over so your elbow rests one hand. Slowly turn at the waist, keeping your shoulder blades together. Sway gently against your knee as you stretch your upper body. You can place a your bottom haf still. Watch your hand as you from side to side as you count to ten. hand on your knee for support. Stretch for ten seconds each side. go. Repeat several times on each side. january/february 2012 Edge 04742-47_Edge_Jan-Feb_12.indd 47 20/12/11 17:13:57