Efficiency and productivity are a key attribute of successful organizations. As business leaders strive to improve employee performance, it’s important to look at ergonomics—the study of interactions between people and their environment.
While it is true ergonomics considers factors like workstations (desks, chairs, etc.), ergonomic elements can also include systems and procedures that are used in the home, workplace, or even the community. According to Christy Gould, Occupational Therapist at Summit Therapy and Health Services of Pullman Regional Hospital, poor ergonomic settings can have long-lasting effects.
“Having a poor work setup can affect an employee's comfort. It can reduce their productivity and increase sick days due to injuries or surgeries. This is bad for the company, but more importantly, bad for the workers themselves,” she states. “A poor setup puts them in bad body alignment, which is what can lead to the stress and strain of their joints, muscles, and other body structures. If left unchanged, over time, this can develop into further problems with tendinitis, disc injuries, and other neck, back, and nerve injuries that can affect the arms and legs. One of the most common is carpal tunnel, which impacts hands and wrists.”
Tips for Proper Posture & Alignment
Whether working at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic or within an on-site setting, there are ways employees can prevent work injuries. Gould urges workers to avoid activities like lifting, bending, working in an awkward body posture, or performing repetitive tasks.
“Those are the things that put us at risk. When you're looking at your environment, one of the most important factors is to promote good body alignment and posture at your workstation. What should this look like? The ideal alignment includes good back support. Most people think you have to be ramrod straight, but that's not actually true.”
To put back muscles in the best position, Gould advises sitting in a slightly reclined pose. Ensure proper lumbar support by choosing a chair with this support built in or by adding a cushion. Feet should be flat on the floor with knees and hips both at 90-degree angles.
For the upper body, face forward with elbows supported and close to the body. Keep wrists straight and hands and wrists in line with forearms. Per Gould, wrist tendinitis and carpal tunnel are two of the more common injuries that can occur from a poor desk arrangement of your work equipment. Use an ergonomic keyboard or mouse to keep your hands and wrists in good alignment. Using a wrist rest will help prevent strains or repetitive-type injuries.
Resources & Assistance for Ergonomic Questions
Even with the best intentions to maintain proper posture and other ergonomically-healthy positions, you may still need a bit of assistance. Gould encourages workers to visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website. The site provides diagrams and postural tips for setting up your workstation at home.
“They call it the ‘computer workstation e-tool.’ So, that's something you can check out when you're getting started. If you are having consistent or increasing neck, back, hand, or wrist pain, then it might benefit you to see one of our occupational therapists at Summit Therapy.
For medical insurance to cover this, individuals would need a referral from their physician. Once approved, the occupational therapist will evaluate one’s ergonomic setup and suggest equipment or changes needed to achieve a healthier workstation.