Injury Prevention in the Workplace. Why Bother with Ergonomics?
A UK survey of over 1,300 office computer users from 130 organisations carried out by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), found that nearly three quarters reported one or more musculoskeletal symptom. According to HSE figures, an estimated 539,000 people in the UK who worked in the last year, suffered from a musculoskeletal disorder they believed to have been caused or made worse by their work. Between them accounting for an estimated 8.8 million working days lost, averaging an estimated 16.4 days off per person affected.
It is clear that in office-based work problems such as back pain, neck pain, shoulder upper and limb disorders, headaches and eye strain are a major cause of sickness absence from work, with many other people functioning at a reduced capability whilst remaining at work.
Although the extent to which computer work actually causes such problems is unclear there is no doubt that furniture and equipment which is poorly designed or wrongly used can contribute to symptoms and, equally, that using well-designed equipment can help to avoid or reduce them.
Where do I start?
In the UK, the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (DSE Regulations) and their Schedule of Minimum Requirements provide a good starting point. However, the Schedule is best thought of as a list of ingredients, the important part being how you use those ingredients to create the best workstation to suit you.
Let’s start with the chair
Probably the most-used item. Any chair must have seat height adjustment and a backrest adjustable for height and angle. These are the legal minimum. Part of ergonomics is recognising that people come in all shapes and sizes and one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. In addition to these adjustments the seat itself should preferably be made available in different depths (front to back). One effective way of achieving this is to provide chairs where this aspect is adjustable. The backrest should have good, supportive lumbar moulding. Again, having this moulding adjustable can be useful, so that it can be changed for size as well as height.
Let’s take a look at the most common ergonomic-related injuries and prevention tips
Back Pain at work, in the office or home
This is the big one….
Sitting in an office chair for prolonged periods of time can definitely cause low back pain or worsen an existing back problem. The main reason behind this is that sitting, in an office chair or in general, is a static posture that increases stress in the back, shoulders, arms, and legs, and in particular, can add large amounts of pressure to the back muscles and spinal discs.
When sitting in an office chair for a long period, the natural tendency for most people is to slouch over or slouch down in the chair, and this posture can overstretch the spinal ligaments and strain the discs and surrounding structures in the spine. Over time, incorrect sitting posture can damage spinal structures and contribute to or worsen back pain.
A good ergonomic office chair is a tool that, when used properly, can help maximize back support, maintain good posture while sitting and ultimately help in the treatment of back pain. However, simply owning an ergonomic office chair is not enough – it is also necessary to adjust the office chair to the proportions of the individual’s body to improve comfort and reduce aggravation to the spine.
The first step in setting up an office chair is to establish the desired height of the individual’s desk or workstation. This decision is determined primarily by the type of work to be done and by the height of the person using the office chair. The height of the desk or workstation itself can vary greatly and will require different positioning of the office chair, or a different type of ergonomic chair altogether.
Once the workstation has been situated, then the user can adjust the office chair according to his or her physical proportions. Here are the most important guidelines – distilled into a quick checklist – to help make sure that the office chair and work area are as comfortable as possible and will cause the least amount of stress to the spine
Your bottom should be pressed against the back of your chair. The lumbar support should cause your lower back to arch slightly so that you don’t slump forward or slouch down in the chair as you tire over time. This low back support in the office chair is essential to minimize the load (strain) on your back. Never slump or slouch forward in the office chair, as that places extra stress on the structures in the lower back, and particularly the lumbar discs.
The correct lower back support will help in the treatment of back pain.
Upper Back, Neck, Shoulders and Head
A back that supports and opens the shoulders and the addition of a headrest will have a positive effect on your posture. An ergonomically designed office chair with a headrest prevents you from hunching forward, scrunching your shoulders, and putting pressure on your back.
Office chairs with a headrest also help to protect you from neck, shoulder, and back pain and headaches which are some of the most common problems associated with using an office chair for a long period of time.
Check that you can easily slide your fingers under your thigh at the leading edge of the office chair. This waterfall front aids circulation. Too tight it will prevent blood flow in the legs. A synchro or forwards tilting seat also corrects alignment and increases seat angle allowing a gap at the front edge of the seat.
With your bottom pushed against the chair back, you should also be able to put at least 2 fingers between the back of your knee and the front of your office chair. If you can’t do that easily, then the office chair is too deep. You will need to adjust the backrest forward, or seat pad backwards.
The correct seat angle and depth will increase blood flow to the legs, help stop leg and knee pain, hip related pain and lower back pain and stress
First, begin by sitting comfortably as close as possible to your desk so that your upper arms are parallel to your spine. Rest your hands on your work surface (e.g. desktop, computer keyboard). If your elbows are not at a 90-degree angle, adjust your office chair height either up or down.
This will help reduce the stress on the elbows, wrists and shoulders. It will help to alleviate symptoms of tennis elbow, carpel tunnel syndrome and mouse shoulder strain and symptoms
Adjust the armrest of the office chair so that it just slightly lifts your arms at the shoulders.
Spine Health recommends the use of an armrest on your office chair is important. It will take some of the strain off your upper spine and shoulders, and wrists and it should make you less likely to slouch forward in your chair. If you’re looking for an ergonomic office chair that will stand the test of time, provide you with ultimate support and comfort, our range is here for you.