Ergonomics Makes Your Office Work for You

Ergonomics, simply put, molds a worker with their working environment. For a company, ergonomics is a cutting-edge, bottom-line oriented business bonus: it reduces injuries and improves employee morale while saving money.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers lost more than 647,000 workdays in 1996 due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. That cost $15 - $20 billion in workers' compensation costs. Workers' affected by these injuries not only have problems at work, many cannot complete simple household projects.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians, also called physiatrists, are trained and experienced in helping prevent and rehabilitate those same workplace injuries that affect a worker's health and a company's bottom-line. Here are some important tips to create a successful and productive ergonomic workplace.

"Develop ergonomic strategies," says Robert Werner, MD, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "Proper positioning, posture, equipment, and education are key elements to a successful ergonomic program," he adds, "And it isn't necessary to spend a fortune redesigning your office space to provide relief." Introducing ergonomic tools and education in bits and pieces are the best weapons to prevent injury in the workplace. Counseling by a professional skilled in the area of ergonomics is an excellent first step. A fifteen-minute assessment of a worker's environment can potentially save employers and employees time and money in lost productivity, wages, and medical expenses.

What else can an employee or a company do to ensure a successful and productive ergonomic workplace?

"Pace your activity and include short, frequent breaks," says Steve Geiringer, MD, professor of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. In our deadline-driven world, workers frequently work for longer periods and then take a longer break expecting it will ease the progressive onset of pain. The reality is that once you feel pain, the damage has already been done. "Short, frequent breaks such as standing for about 30 seconds every 20 or 30 minutes provides a necessary break for your muscles," says Dr. Geiringer. These breaks revitalize your muscles with the oxygen necessary to operate efficiently.

A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan tested workstations that moved employees throughout the day from a sitting to a standing position at their computer. Seventy percent of the subjects preferred a work station with a sit/stand option compared to a conventional sitting only workstation. Workers also reported lower levels of back, neck and arm pain with the sit/stand option.

Business is a world where time lost is money lost. "An office that is well-designed from the standpoint of ergonomics should result in fewer repetitive stress injuries (RSIs). It will also result in less time off work for RSIs and neck/back injuries, improved employee satisfaction and therefore heightened productivity, and perhaps even improved employee retention," says Dr. Geiringer.

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