Office Ergonomics

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Ergonomics is not a word you’ll hear very often out on a ranch while busting broncos or baling hay. It is, however, a major concern in the modern office environment.

It is becoming a well-established concern for the 21st Century office worker that sitting at your desk all day is a very unhealthy practice. A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada and ParticipAction suggests that prolonged sitting promotes hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In other words, sitting could very well be killing you.

But all is not lost. A few simple changes around the office can improve your health by leaps and bounds and break the chain of bad consequences for sitting.

The first change is to get up and move around. Make it your business to walk around the office—even for just a minute or two—once or twice per hour. These micro-breaks help break the negative effects of long sedentary periods by getting the blood flowing and your muscles moving.

Something else you can easily do to get out of the saddle and onto your feet is to stand while taking phone calls. In my office there are actually a couple people who pace around the office whenever they’re on a cell phone call. Again, an opportunity to be moving while doing something that doesn’t require you to be right at your desk.

Some companies are trying out standing desks as an alternative to sitting in a chair all day. As noted on Smithsonian.com, using a standing desk instead of the traditional sitting desk results in reduced risk of obesity, reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of cancer, and lower long-term mortality risk due to all those previous benefits.

If you’re still stuck sitting for your job, there are still some steps you can take to make it as easy on your body as possible. Make sure your task chair is set up properly—it needs to be at the right height, putting your knees are at right angles with your feet flat on the floor, it needs to give you proper lumbar support and it needs to keep you upright and reduce the likelihood of you slumping or slouching.

The keyboard should be positioned so that your elbows are at right angles, with the “H” key centred on the monitor. The mouse should be positioned close by, such that it can be used with the wrist flat and straight, not bent up or down.

Lighting levels need to be adequate to reduce squinting and reduce glare off the monitor.

Set up your office properly and you can mitigate several issues associated with sitting.

This isn’t just a good idea for individual workers; it’s a good idea for companies as well. Healthy workers observing good ergonomic practices are thinking more clearly, make fewer mistakes, get injured less often and are away due to illness less frequently. The net result is better productivity and better profitability. And that is, after all, the point of operating a business.

References:

Sedentary living is the ‘new smoking’ and we’re paying for it, study says. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/sedentary-living-is-the-new-smoking-and-we-re-paying-for-it-study-says-1.2811872

Five Health Benefits of Standing Desks. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-health-benefits-standing-desks-180950259/?no-ist

Article originally published in Buck Up! Magazine, Issue 7, May/June, 2015

Jim can be reached at jim@flannerysafetyconsulting.com

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