The idea of a hazardous workplace usually conjures up the image of a busy construction site with fall hazards, excavations, and equipment, or a manufacturing plant with lots of moving parts and loud machinery. However, even offices can be hazardous for workers. One of the main safety concerns for an office environment is ergonomic hazards. Ergonomic-related work injuries, like musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and vision issues (despite recent explosions in the growth of remote work opportunities) are a major concern for businesses, as displayed in the fact that care for work-related MSDs accounts for nearly $17 million in losses per year. This article will provide insight into ergonomic hazard identification and prevention within an office setting.
What is Ergonomics?
In practice, ergonomics is fitting a workplace to the worker’s needs. This plays out in strategies designed to increase comfort, efficiency, and productivity. A basic understanding of ergonomic principles can prevent many workplace injuries. By making specific adjustments, providing the right tools to workers, and teaching proper posture (as well as other ergonomic concepts), EHS teams can reduce the negative impact of those repetitive movements that regularly occur in an office setting and can be wearing on the human body.
Ergonomic hazards in an office setting can take the shape of:
- The angle of a computer monitor.
- The height of a desk.
- The need to look at a computer screen for long periods.
- Excessive typing without breaks.
When it comes to an office setup, ergonomic principles should be applied to the adjustment and use of every tool employees utilize to complete their daily tasks, including desks, chairs, computer monitors, keyboards, and lighting.
- Chairs: Office chairs should support the worker’s lower back, allow for their feet to rest on the floor, and for their elbows to remain close to their sides with relaxed shoulders.
- Desk: Whether a standing or sitting desk, there should be enough room for the worker’s legs and feet to remain under the desktop without crowding. On the desktop, it is recommended that a wrist rest be used to diminish the probability of contact stress.
- Computer Monitor: The monitor should be placed approximately 20-30 inches directly in front of the user, with the top of the screen adjusted to slightly below eye level.
- Keyboard and Mouse: The position of the keyboard and mouse should agree with chair placement, within easy reach and allowing for use with shoulders relaxed and wrists straight.
- Laptop: While often more convenient, the laptop has a screen that is typically closer, smaller, and lower than a traditional desktop computer and will therefore cause more discomfort. External tools such as an add-on keyboard and/or mouse and a laptop mount can compensate for these deficiencies.
- Phone: Whether cellular or landline, using a phone by cradling it between the head and shoulder to have use of both hands while talking is an ergonomic hazard and should be avoided. Headphones or headsets can be used as an alternative to this practice.
Musculoskeletal disorders can be the result of performing the same/similar tasks or motions (typing, bending, leaning, reaching, etc.) repeatedly over an extended period, especially those that require the worker to be in an awkward position. MSDs can cause continual and progressive pain in many areas of the human body and significantly reduce the quality of life. Workers should therefore be afforded breaks from monotonous activities to stretch and/or rest, encouraging injury prevention.
Additionally, computer use is a prolific part of office work. On top of risks that could result in MSDs (using bad posture while sitting at a desk for the entire workday), computer/laptop use can lead to or increase eye and vision problems such as eye strain, headaches, fatigue, blurred vision, or irritated eyes. Vision issues can be prevented or reduced by working in a well-lit office, using a large, clean, properly placed, and correctly adjusted computer screen, and taking breaks to recover and focus on distant objects.
Taking these tips for addressing ergonomic hazards in the office into account is just one tool in establishing the health and safety of workers. EHS teams may choose to additionally employ periodic ergonomic assessments to analyze and control (as much as possible) the changing conditions of a typical office setting with constant turnover, onboarding of new employees, and shifting priorities. If that is the case, an integrated EHS management software could assist safety practitioners in their efforts by compiling information in one centralized database and making it easier to spot trends and communicate across teams about ergonomic concerns. Of course, safety professionals cannot perform these assessments day-to-day. Ultimately, the responsibility of enforcing ergonomic health and safety principles will be down to each individual.
The SafetyStratus Research Advisory Group (RAG) brings together thought leaders from the global environmental, health, and safety community to promote best practices and provide key insights in the profession and the industries they serve. The Research Advisory Group also advocates, where practical, the intersection of and advances with the use of technology, such as the SafetyStratus enterprise EHS software platform. Group membership consists of representatives from across varied disciplines and market sectors as well as select members of the SafetyStratus team.
The primary objectives of the SafetyStratus RAG partnership are to:
- Build a strategic partnership between EHS practitioners and the SafetyStratus team.
- Provide engaging and practical content to the global EHS community.
- Provide discipline and market feedback specific to SafetyStratus products and services.
While the objectives of the RAG are varied, the primary public-facing outcome will be available through engaging and practical content found on the SafetyStratus resource pages. Various articles, papers, and other valuable resources will be produced and shared as part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a robust community. Ultimately, the SafetyStratus RAG will expand to have a broader reach and provide opportunities for more inclusion by all interested EHS professionals in a collaborative community environment.