Back pain or injury is one of the most common complaints among today’s employees. Many times this condition and other musculoskeletal disorders can easily be avoided by correct ergonomic measures. Employers can integrate some basic ergonomics guidelines into their wellness program to provide employees with an improved working environment. This will not only result in an increase in employee wellness, but also in an increase in company productivity and profitability.
What is ergonomics?
OSHA defines ergonomics as “the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population.” Pain results from repetitive and forceful use of hands, heavy lifting, frequent pushing, pulling, carrying of heavy objects, and prolonged awkward positioning of the body.
Without proper ergonomics, many employees are at risk of musculoskeletal disorders, and other conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. OSHA estimates that 34% of lost workday cases are a result of musculoskeletal injuries. About 42% of carpal tunnel syndrome cases result in more than 30 days of missed work.
Impact on the employer
Employee injuries not only affect employee engagement and productivity, but also the employer’s bottom dollar. Injuries and musculoskeletal disorders result in greater workers compensation cases, an increase in absences due to injuries, and higher medical claims and prescription drugs usage.
Afflicted employees will experience decreased motivation, and may contribute to a domino effect of decreased motivation among coworkers and team members. Research also shows that these types of injuries affect employee productivity by as much as 11%. Employers who invest in ergonomics, therefore, reap the benefits of greater employee wellbeing and overall company productivity.
Although ergonomics can be a complex science, there are a few basic guidelines that employers can adapt in their workplace to provide a better working environment for their employees. Educate your employees about the following guidelines and encourage their participation:
- Discuss the importance of good posture and body alignment – Good posture is key in reducing lower back pain. If your employees experience back pain at certain times in the day, it could be a result of bad posture at their workstation. This could mean slouching in front of a computer for office employees, or improper lifting for manufacturing employees. Spine-Health is a great resource to share with your employees on specific guidelines on correct posture.
- Provide plenty of breaks – Injury is a result of repetitive movement. To avoid injury, it’s best to take breaks throughout the day to avoid muscle overuse. Provide an accessible break room for all employees, and encourage them to take breaks when needed. For repetitive tasks, experts recommend alternating tasks and taking a 4-minute break every 45 minutes. Heavy computer users should periodically blink rapidly to avoid eyestrain.
- Encourage exercise - Exercise is a great way to condition and strengthen the muscles. As the employer, encourage consistent exercise among your employees by providing them with opportunities, such as gym memberships, free online exercise programs, and if possible, provide them a walking path near the workplace that they can use during lunchtime. Remind them to stretch and move around to avoid muscle strain when they’re unable to exercise.
- Invest in ergonomic-friendly work furniture and equipment – Provide your employees with ergonomically correct chairs, computer workstations, floor mats, and other work furniture. This will help avoid possible injuries, and contribute to a more comfortable work environment.
The bottom line
Ergonomics is a science that affects every worker. An ergonomically correct workplace not only improves employee wellbeing, but it also improves company productivity and reduces workers compensation and health care costs. A few basic guidelines on posture, exercise, and office furniture, can ensure any employer a safer and more comfortable work environment for its employees.