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Understanding Ergonomics

Ergonomics is a critical component of any office, governed by a wide range of legislation, including Health & Safety directives.  By assessing the total working environment including the individual people, it is possible to design safe, effective and productive working systems which will have a positive impact on the business. 

It is a complex subject; a brief introduction is included below.
  Ergonomic position


Ergonomics Society logoErgonomics (also known as Human Factors) is the science concerned with ensuring a good fit between people, the things they do, the objects they use and the environments in which they work, travel and play.  It is an approach which puts human needs and capabilities first, to ensure that tasks, equipment, information and the environment suit each individual worker.

There are significant implications for efficiency, productivity, safety and health in work settings.  For example:

  • Designing equipment and systems including computers, so that they are easier to use and less likely to lead to errors in operation - particularly important in high stress and safety-critical operations such as control rooms.
  • Designing tasks and jobs so that they are effective and take account of human needs such as rest breaks, and sensible shift patterns, as well as other factors such as intrinsic rewards of work itself.
  • Designing equipment and work arrangements to improve working posture and ease the load on the body, thus reducing instances of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) / Work Related Upper Limb Disorder.
  • Designing working environments, including lighting and heating, to suit the needs of the users and the tasks performed.  Where necessary, design of personal protective equipment for work and hostile environments.

Ergonomists consider the physical aspects of a person (e.g. size, shape, strength, vision) and the stresses and strains on muscles, joints and nerves.  Physiological analysis is required to evaluate the body's energy needs to set acceptable physical workrate and workload and the environmental impact of the working conditions.  Not least is the psychological aspect, which is concerned with mental processes (e.g. cognition, memory, decision-making, ability, motivation and human-computer interaction).


Impact on Business

Applying ergonomics to the workplace reduces the potential for accidents, injury and ill health, such as aches and pains of the wrists, shoulders and back.  Failure to observe ergonomic principles may have serious repercussions for both the individual and the organization as a whole.  Applied successfully, on the other hand, it improves performance and productivity and efficiency.  Compliance need not be expensive, and sometimes may be as simple as reorganizing the existing layout.



Setting up your Workstation

Desk positionIt is important to set up your workstation correctly, and that you are able to work in a position which is comfortable and which does not place your long-term health at risk.

Sitting in a slumped position can cause back pain, even long-term injury.  Therefore adopt a "neutral" position to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones.  You may wish to ask a colleague to check a side view as it may be difficult to judge for yourself, especially as the correct set-up may feel odd at first.

  • Eyes should be level with the top of the monitor screen.
  • Elbows should be level with the top of the keyboard, allowing arms and hands to be horizontal.
  • Seat height should allow feet to rest flat while maintaining 90º angle at hips.

Many people have their chair too high and their monitors too low.  If after adjustment, the undersides of your thighs are compressed, you may require a foot rest.  Adjust the backrest so that it supports your lower back.  Remove armrests if they get in the way.

A suitable adjustable monitor arm will allow you to alter the height and tilt of the screen, and meet the recommended distance of screen to eye (22-26" or 50-70cm).  Closer than this will cause eye strain.  Correct tilting will help eliminate glare.

Reposition items on your desk to avoid reaching and twisting.  There should be nothing between you and the keyboard, except gel wrist rests.  Use a document holder if you refer to documents while typing.  This should be positioned at the same height and distance as your monitor.


Recommended Posture


If you require further details on the points raised here, please visit the Ergonomics Society website.  Contact us for details on how we can assist you in fulfilling these requirements.
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