Why Ergonomics In the Workplace Matters More Than Ever

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on July 31, 2019

The idea of ergonomics in the workplace isn’t new, but it has evolved as the day in the life of a typical employee has changed.

Yet the number of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is still shockingly high.

OSHA estimates that over 600,000 injuries and illnesses and one third of all lost workdays are related to these conditions. This costs employers more than $20 billion each year. The agency argues that applying modern ergonomics in the workplace can significantly reduce the incidence of these types of injuries.

Here’s what you need to know about creating a healthier, safer workplace with ergonomics.

Ergonomics for the Modern Digital Workplace

Traditional ergonomics were narrower in focus because older approaches to the workplace were based on uniformity. Every employee worked in the same type of cubicle, using the same type of equipment and rarely moved from the same part of the office.

But new technologies have made it remarkably easy for employees to do their jobs from just about anywhere. In a modern agile work environment, most employees use laptops and move around the office throughout the day, rather than sitting at a single desk. As a result of this increased mobility, there’s a need for a new approach to ergonomics in the workplace.

In his whitepaper, Active Ergonomics for the Emerging Workplace, Dr. Michael O’Neill explains that while more employers are designing workplaces that replace private offices and workstations with spaces for group work, traditional office ergonomics don’t account for these kinds of spaces. He advises employers to abandon classic ergonomics and instead adopt what he calls “Active Ergonomics.”

According to O’Neill, active ergonomics is “the application of ergonomic principles broadly throughout the workplace to create safe and productive settings for both individual and group work—no matter where it may occur.”

Active ergonomics centers around three key concepts:

  1. Anthropometrics. This is classic ergonomics and involves how an employee engages with their immediate environment—including their posture, hand position and eye position in relation to a computer monitor or laptop.
  2. Ambients. This refers to the overall environmental conditions of the workplace, such as air quality, lighting, office noise levels, and temperature.
  3. Movement. This area involves not only how an employee travels throughout the workplace but how they move within an individual workspace.

In other words, active ergonomics addresses how the entire workplace supports the health of the workforce (or doesn’t.)

One aspect of active ergonomics is especially important for companies that have adopted a flexible seating arrangement such as activity-based working: legibility.

Legibility refers to how easily people can navigate the layout of the workplace and understand the intended use of each area.

A legible workplace is one where employees can quickly locate the type of space they need and use that space effectively. It’s intuitive and predictable, and its design allows new employees and visitors to easily find their way around.

How to Improve Ergonomics In Your Workplace

To create a more ergonomically-friendly workplace, try these five simple strategies:

  1. Provide ergonomic equipment, such as height-adjustable sit-stand desks, adaptable monitors and external mice and keyboards to use with laptops.
  2. Take advantage of dual-source lighting, in which employees use both overhead lights and desk lights, to reduce glare and eye strain.
  3. Design the workplace so high-traffic and high-noise spaces are positioned away from areas designated for quiet work.
  4. Ensure the temperature is properly controlled and airflow is adequate by implementing preventive maintenance.
  5. Design the workplace so it’s easy for employees to find people and workspaces. Using wayfinding software and digital signage can help.

Taking a “big picture” approach to ergonomics is necessary to not only support the health and wellbeing of your workforce but their productivity, too. Don’t wait any longer to apply the principles of active ergonomics in your workplace.

Need help making the business case for ergonomics? Check out our new whitepaper, In Search of Intelligent Space.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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