For a small business owner and his or her employees, today’s workplace typically requires spending most of your time in front of a computer or on a mobile device.
Whether you are a home-based solo entrepreneur tapping away on a laptop on your sofa or own a growing business with dozens of employees in an office setting, there are some important steps you must take to create an ergonomic office.
Ergonomics is DEFINITION.
An ergonomic office has many benefits. It enables you and your team to work more efficiently because you don’t physically tire out as fast. Ergonomic design helps prevent back pain, eyestrain, and repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Equally important, an ergonomic workplace prevents small aches and pains from developing into musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which are potentially crippling injuries.
Ergonomics matter because if you have employees, an employee who develops an injury in the workplace can be eligible for worker’s compensation or even sue your business. It’s also important if you’re a one-person operation—if you are in so much pain you can barely work, what will happen to your business?
Here are four steps for developing an ergonomic workplace.
Sustained, repetitive, or awkward motions can take place in many industries, from typing in an office to lifting boxes in a warehouse or loading and unloading a dishwasher in a restaurant. Whatever your industry, observe the actions you and your employees do over and over.
- Are you standing or sitting in the same position for long periods?
- Do you frequently perform awkward movements (such as lifting heavy loads)?
- Do you make the same motion over and over?
- Is your posture straight or slumped?
Next, notice whether you feel discomfort.
- Are you squinting or getting headaches?
- Are your muscles tight?
- Does your back hurt?
Ask your employees, too. If people are feeling pain—even the beginning signs of pain—then you need to alleviate it.
Many MSDs can be prevented with some simple adjustments to the workplace. These can include office equipment such as:
- Adjustable desk chairs
- Lumbar support pads
- Under-desk keyboard trays to put computer keyboards at a proper height
- Adjustable stands for computer monitors
- Wrist or back braces for typing or lifting
- Task lighting such as a desk lamp
Often, you can create a more ergonomic workplace without purchasing anything new. For example, if glare from a window is making it hard to see a computer screen, try moving your desk or rearranging where the computer sits. If your monitor is too low, put a book under it.
You can also improve ergonomics by adjusting the way you and your employees work. For instance, if a warehouse job requires lifting heavy boxes for an hour, have employees take turns so that no one is lifting for more than an hour at a time.
3. Break it up
Taking regular breaks is key to getting the full benefits from an ergonomic workplace. Basically, a break should provide the chance to do the opposite of your normal posture and tasks. If you work hunched at a computer eight hours a day, get up, stretch and walk around once an hour. If you stand most of the day, sit down and rest or walk around.
Give your eyes a regular break from the computer or phone screen by staring at a blank wall, closing your eyes, or rubbing your hands together and cupping them over your closed eyes for a minute.
If you have employees, you can have everyone take breaks at the same time and lead the team in some gentle stretches, walking in place, or other light exercises.
4. Monitor results
Monitor the results of the changes you make and continue adjusting your workplace as needed to make it more ergonomic.
The following resources can help you learn more and develop your own ergonomic workplace:
- OSHA provides guidelines for ergonomics in various industries.
- This Cal/OSHA guidebook provides some useful examples of easy fixes for ergonomic issues.
- WebMD offers a simple guide to the symptoms, causes, and prevention of MSD.
- HRWorld’s Ultimate Guide to Workplace Ergonomics has useful tips.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a variety of resources on ergonomics.