What does a bent pinky, tech neck, stiff elbow, and violet vision, conjure up in your mind? If you are thinking of the consequences of Jerry dropping a piano on Tom’s head, you are half right. Those cartoons were a laughter riot. But these? Well, these are the common injuries sustained from persistent smartphone use. You know, the ones where you crane your neck down to read a tweet and scroll the screen with a furious gesture?
But say you are not much of a smartphone user and prefer spending your hours being productive at your job. And given this day and age, you are most likely being productive behind a desk, hunched up reading on a laptop monitor a foot too high or too low, fervently typing away codes to please the gods.
What is ergonomics? Why is it important?
Ergonomics is the study of working styles. Working habits that rely on prolonged awkward postures or movements lead to what are called ergonomic violations. Sedentary working styles like prolonged computer/laptop use, holding the phone receiver with your bent elbow or your shoulders, incorrect postures while sitting, are the usual suspects.
However, even jobs that require you to be mobile, standing, or bending your body in ways god never intended also lead to injuries. Muscoloskeletal Disorders (MSD) are a common consequence of such repeated actions and these often have the danger of making a permanent impact on our muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons.
And if that doesn’t scare you, here are some gut wrenching stats – the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported MSD to be the leading cause of illness and injury among 33% of American workers, in 2013.
How do ergonomic injuries affect workers?
If you prefer numbers from phoren vaygyaniks in white lab coats like most Indian commercials do, here are some studies that show how much you are pushing your harmful limits while not taking ergonomics seriously.
- According to a study published in the journal of Surgical Technology International, force exerted on the cranium increases with head tilt. A long term bent posture can cause the neck to strain and develop problems.
- A UK survey claims that an extended period of hunched sitting posture can cause back problems. As many as 84% of young adults from 18 to 24 years showed these symptoms despite their otherwise hale and hearty youth.
- Focusing on the small lit screens of these devices can cause eye strains, and in the worst situation eye degeneration.
- A study on work related MSDs in Australia, over a five-year period, showed that there were over 360,000 serious MSD claims, or nearly 60% of all claims. Soft tissue disorders accounted for 29%, trauma to muscles and tendons about 21%, and trauma to joints and ligaments at 14% of all MSD injuries.
- Lumbar pain, stiff shoulder, carpel tunnel, and arthritis, are other problems that can develop over years’ worth of neglect to good working conditions, making the years after retirement a pretty sour reward for all the years of being active in the workforce. Read Is a high salary enough to make your job satisfactory?
But that’s not all. The consequences of maintaining poor working conditions can also be pretty costly for employers. Here are some ways in which a lack of healthy and safe working styles can affect an organization.
How do ergonomic injuries affect employers and businesses?
Besides the health and safety implications of a sound working environment, the lack thereof can cause actual loss in productivity and capital. The numbers make the practice of maintaining an ergonomic working condition, at office, a smart investment.
- A lax approach to employee ergonomics and safety can be quite costly. According to a study in Australia, a five-year period showed that MSDs caused employees to miss time from work with a median time lost at 5.8 working weeks. The median compensation paid was about $9,000 per serious MSD claim.
What does this indicate? Well, for starters, if an organization is not careful or doesn’t encourage ergonomic working styles, it will not only be harmful to the employees but also reduce productivity each time an injury occurs.
Claims cost money too and the additional cost of training someone new to take over is simply not worth it. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in America, the direct costs of MSD claims can be as high as $14,000. The indirect costs like overtime, staff coverage, replacements, recruitment, etc can shoot the numbers in the neighborhood of $32,000 per case.
- Employee engagement is quite intricately entangled with job satisfaction and thus is efficiency and productivity. Adopting an employee ergonomic awareness approach, and making work stations ergonomic, shows that the employers care about their workers.
The care tactics are a perfect return for employee loyalty and efficiency. By making the human capital comfortable, organizations are more likely to reduce absenteeism and fake sick days. Read Why and how should employers care for their employees?
- Commitment to a safety culture, down with regulated measures of work practices, reduces accidents, whether personnel or product. You can say ergonomic measures and a standardized safe working environment improves the quality of workers and the work they are doing.
What are the common ergonomic practices?
Let’s begin with the absolutely essential, yet low cost, measures to improve working styles.
- Adjustable-workstations is a big one. When you do have a desk job and you are indeed tied to the four-legged beast for the whole day, an adjustable desk height lends you the option of switching to a standing-mode and relax your back. This is a great way to let the pressure off your lower back.
- Adjustable chairs and desks also allow you to orient your workstation to your height. It is never a good idea to strain your neck, arms and legs, to work for long periods of time. Set your chair so your arms can rest on the handles and your wrists are level with the desk. Your knees should be at right angles and your feet should not strain to touch the floor. Take a foot-stool if you have to. Adjust the back of your chair so the backrest tilt stays between 93 and 113 degrees.
- Adjust the height of your computer monitor so that it is completely at your eye level and about 25-30 inches away. Adopt some form of anti-glare means to reduce eye strain. Minimize the use of mouse and if you have to, move your arm, and not pivot around your wrist, to use it. Keyboard use should be ideally shared between both hands and again try not to rest the wrist on the desk and pivot your hand about it.
- Get a headset for your phone and keep your body from having to repeatedly strain to access items on your desk.
- Let your body relax, occasionally, by switching between sitting, standing, and walking. Stretch out the tight muscles. Go for a chamomile tea and let the blood flow out to those legs.
- If your job calls for you to stand and work in awkward poses, find alternative tools and support to minimize the pressure.
Take it easy, is what the underlying message about ergonomics. Not just mentally, but let your body relax into its natural moves and be comfortable in and around what you do. And with a little bit of thought for care you might just be all set to enjoy your twilight years without crutches. Or as we say, no pain and no cane!