One major reason why employers hesitate to address ergonomic challenges in the office is because they think that ergonomics is expensive and takes a lot of work to implement.
This misconception that ergonomics is costly is a barrier that stands between you and your ideal client. We all know that changes in the office don't always need to cost a fortune.
Simple and low-cost solutions such as making sure that the chair height is appropriate, the equipment has sufficient spacing, and the employee has a good desk posture often work best.
In this post, I’m going to share five examples of low-cost solutions that require little resources and time to implement. This is Part 1 of a two-part series about the top 10 changes you can make in the office. Sharing the examples below with your clients can help put them at ease before you start your first assessment because it improves your know, like, and trust factor.
The list below are the things that I learned during consultations and when I managed my own in-house ergonomics program.
The lower back (lumbar) support is the most crucial element of the chair, and you want to pay close attention to it, especially if your client has lower back pain.
It’s the area in the lower part of the backrest that comes outward (concave shape), and it's meant to support the inward curve of your back. Nowadays, most chairs have a lumbar support curvature built into the chair. However, they may be positioned incorrectly (either too high or too low) or not have the right type of fit. In some expensive chairs, there can be a density or pressure issue in the lower back.
To maintain lower back support, the chair should be properly adjusted. Most employees in the office aren't comfortable making these adjustments themselves. This presents an opportunity for you as the ergonomics consultant.
It’s essential that we coach our clients on how and when to make the adjustments for the backrest because what usually happens is that it falls over time. This means that what was adjusted perfectly for them in the assessment may not be comfortable for them in the next month.
So, you have a lot of opportunities to offer your clients a variety of services (in addition to the other adjustments I'll mention below). You can do an annual check-in or a quarterly check-in to see if everyone's properly adjusted. Perhaps when they get a new chair from a vendor, that’s another opportunity for you to come in and adjust that chair for them.
One huge misconception about chairs is that the backrest must always be perfectly straight for it to be ergonomic. However, research has now shown that sitting at a 90-degree angle is actually not the most neutral back posture to sit in. It’s not as detrimental as leaning forward, however the optimal ergonomic sitting position is between about 93 and 113 degrees. The upper and lower back should also be well-supported. Properly adjusting the backrest angle can help maintain good posture and take the pressure off the back.
In addition to adjusting the office chair, another feature to pay attention to is the height of the desk. This is an unconventional type of adjustment to consider, especially when we’re talking about all the different types of adjustability items in a typical office. An optimal desk height can relieve or reduce the likelihood of developing upper extremity pain (as well as in other body areas).
One of the important aspects to consider to make sure that your client is adjusted optimally is the hand-working height. If the hand-working height is too high or too low, the rest of that person's body is going to compensate, and that can cause discomfort.
What you want to do is to position your client in an optimal sitting position. The way to do this is to ensure that the desk height or the hand-working height is just slightly below that person's neutral elbow height. A really simple change that you could make is by increasing or lowering the height of the chair or the height of the desk (or keyboard tray).
Making this simple adjustment doesn't necessarily cost anything, especially because most people today have an adjustable chair, a height adjustable desk, or have a keyboard tray. However, if you go into an office, you'd be surprised to see that almost everybody has a desk height that's far too high above the neutral elbow height.
Lastly, if you’re going to increase the chair height to have an optimal hand-working level, see to it that the feet are making firm contact against the ground. If you raise the chair to a certain height that their feet are dangling, a simple and low-cost solution you can apply is by putting papers or a box below their feet.
Incorrect positioning of the monitor (too high or too low) can result in awkward postures that can lead to neck discomfort. To make sure that your client’s neck is in a neutral and relaxed position, check if the top of the screen is at eye level or just below so that they can look down at a slight angle to their work.
As an ergonomics consultant, this is where it can start to get quite complex. If you've ever been through one of my webinars before, I mentioned what's called a ‘Domino Rally’ wherein you make one change to one set of equipment to your setup, and that automatically displaces all the other elements. So what was once neutral throws the whole system off. This is why doing a good root cause analysis is key to any competent ergonomics assessor. Simple solutions that you can put into place include using a monitor riser, textbooks, and papers.
The next solution you need to keep in mind is the mouse position. This is commonly overlooked, especially with petite people working with a standard keyboard.
Oftentimes, people who complain of right shoulder pain also reach outwardly to the mouse. This can put a lot of strain on the right shoulder because the arm is in an awkward position. What you can do is simply change where the strain is happening to a more neutral position.
You can do this by switching to left hand mousing. I love recommending this to my clients. It usually takes about a day to be competent with left hand mousing and a week to be an expert.
Another solution is to get a compact keyboard. The benefit of using a compact keyboard is that it removes the extended reach for mousing.
And that’s it for Part 1. In order to make the best recommendation, it takes some discussion with your client to make sure that what you recommend is in line with how they want to work. I hope you got some insights from this post as to what aspect in the workplace you need to change to give you the results that you desire.
The five solutions I mentioned are very simple and can be put in place immediately. For the second part of this episode, I’ll be sharing with you another 5 solutions that you can recommend to your clients that don't cost money.
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