What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics refers to studying and addressing the various factors that contribute to creating a safe and healthy workforce and workplace environment. It focuses on designing and arranging each element within a workplace, such as the overall layout, workstation design, task design, lighting, noise and air quality to optimise the interaction between employees and the tools they use each day, with the end goal of enhancing productivity, safety and comfort1.
What is an ergonomic assessment?
An ergonomic assessment involves evaluating a specific workspace or task and assessing the worker using the workspace or carrying out the task to identify potential ergonomic issues that may negatively impact the health, safety and comfort of the worker.
Some of the most common ergonomic risks faced by workers in the workplace include forceful exertions, ongoing awkward or uncomfortable postures and high task repetition; each of which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders and work-related injuries.
Ergonomic assessments should only be carried out by a trained and qualified professional, such as an occupational therapist, ergonomist or safety specialist.
There are multiple steps involved in carrying out an ergonomic assessment:
- Review of existing data
A qualified assessor will review any existing reports and data such as compensation reports, first aid logs and insurance claims to get an understanding of work-related injury and illness that has already occurred and identify any common issues.
- Establishing a standard
A standard ergonomic assessment method will be established to enable benchmarking and accuracy when future follow up assessments are carried out.
The assessor will visit the workplace, observe employees carrying out their daily tasks and identify any potential risks such as uncomfortable postures, repetitive tasks and poor workspace layout or set up.
- Employee interviews
The assessor will interview employees to gather more information on their routine and any ergonomic issues they may be facing.
- Physical measurements
The assessor may take measurements of workstations and tools to ensure they fit each individual user. In an office environment, this may include measurements of the desk and chair height and monitor position.
- Risk identification
The assessor will use the information and insights gathered from observations, interviews, measurements and task analysis to identify areas of risk.
Once areas of potential risk have been identified, the assessor will compile a list of recommendations that should be implemented to improve the ergonomics of a workplace.
What are the benefits of good ergonomics?
Good ergonomics should be a priority in any workplace, whether in an office environment, workshop or out in the field. Improving ergonomics not only minimises the risk of work-related injuries but comes with a number of other benefits for the employee, employer and business as a whole, including:
1. Improved health and safety
Correct ergonomic design reduces the risk of musculoskeletal disorders and other work-related injuries among employees, creating an overall safer and healthier workforce.
2. Improved productivity
Productivity can be improved by streamlining workflows, removing unnecessary or repetitive tasks where possible and enhancing efficiency as their workstations are designed to support the tasks they are required to carry out.
3. Reduced costsy
Although the initial investment in carrying out an ergonomic assessment, implementing the recommendations and purchasing new equipment can seem overwhelming, good ergonomics leads to substantial cost savings in the long term. Reducing the risk of work-related injuries means fewer workers compensation claims and reduced employee healthcare costs. Additionally, increased productivity can lead to overall financial gain for the business.
4. Improved employee engagement and morale
Employees feel valued when their health and safety is prioritised. This results in better morale among employees and a higher level of employee satisfaction.
5. Reduced absenteeism and turnover
A reduction in workplace injuries means a reduction in injury related absenteeism. As previously mentioned, when employees feel valued in a workplace, they are more likely to feel satisfied and therefore stay with a company, reducing employee turnover.
6. Improved inclusivity
Good ergonomics considers the diverse needs and abilities of the entire workforce, fitting the task and work environment to the employee and ultimately promoting inclusivity in the workplace.
What are the effects of bad ergonomics?
Bad ergonomics can impact both individual employees and the overall workplace. In terms of work-related injuries, there are a number of short and long term risks that employees face when working in a bad ergonomic environment.
Short term risks
- Neck and back pain
- Reduced blood circulation
- Less efficient digestion
- Discomfort and fatigue
Long term risks
- Carpal tunnel
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Chronic pain
- Heart conditions
In addition to the negative effects to employee’s health, a bad ergonomic environment also reduces productivity, increases absenteeism, reduces employee satisfaction and morale and therefore increases employee turnover. Each of these impacts have negative repercussions to the financial health and reputation of an organisation.
How can ergonomics prevent injury?
All workers have the right to a safe and healthy working environment. Good ergonomics aim to give the highest protection against harm that is reasonably practicable, which not only reduces risks in the short term but fosters better overall health and wellbeing in the longer term by considering the ongoing impacts of poor work design on physical and mental health.