In our previous segment we took a look at workplace injuries. We looked at how the pandemic has greatly altered the dynamic of the average employee and employer. As the working world shifts from office buildings to online meetings, the work-from-home culture was born. Many corporations are considering making the change permanent adding to the stress or elation of many employees. We also looked at what puts an employee at risk for developing a workplace injury with a look at different types of job descriptions and how they increased or decreased that risk.
And finally we looked at the most common workplace injuries and how to treat them by yourself. All in all we concluded that getting hurt will most probably affect every single employee at some point during their career. The severity of said injury or injuries will depend on the type of work they do. Therefore, taking a look at yourself and your lifestyle, you will need to assess whether or not your work life and your home life are balanced… Or are you tipping the scale in favor of your job? Regardless, this concept seems to be inevitable and affects so many people across the world.
With something so important and common, it raised a question and eventually got us thinking…
Since this seems to be happening on a universal scale, isn’t there anything we can do about it? What can we do as employees and employers to prevent workplace injuries from happening in the first place? Let’s find out…
As you can see, the entire workplace dynamic has changed over the last two years. And we have now, to a certain extent, thoroughly covered what you need to do after the fact, after the injury has already occurred or developed. But what about preventing work related injuries?
You might be surprised to know that the majority of companies, corporations and organizations have adopted a much more wellness approach to managing their respective workforce. Companies have founded entire departments with the sole purpose of looking at and taking care of the employees' overall well-being. This is usually done through themed wellness days, in house initiatives, employee education and occupational benefits.
In fact, some companies, obviously the companies with bigger budgets actually invest quite heavily into the wellness structures of their organization. These investments include setting up workplace gym and exercise facilities, subsidizing gym memberships, healthcare benefits as well as setting up cafeterias or company kitchens that offer healthy meal options to employees at a discounted price.
Companies make this extra effort because they have started to realize that employee efficiency is directly linked to their well-being, if they don’t feel well they don’t perform well. Occupational care has in recent years become an extremely lucrative and well funded business model; as big corporations continue to look at gaining an edge in improving the bottom line. So yes, their motives might not solely be about helping their employees but at least the employees are getting the longer end of the stick, in most cases.
But that being said, we aren’t all blessed or in a privileged position where we work for a large corporation that is investing heavily in our well-being at work. It is true that some companies stick a metaphorical band-aid on their employees' health by organizing low budget incentives or initiatives that serve no purpose other than presenting them with a photo op and some good PR. I know I might sound overly cynical, but this is the reality.
Even more so with the current times we find ourselves in; this pandemic has heavily affected literally every corporation barring Big pharma and the online retail giants and maybe TikyToky or whatever the kids are filming these days! So the atmosphere is much more tense, so we are much more stressed. This extra stress is degrading our health and well-being as our employers want us to be grateful that we even have a job, much less worry about something as minuscule as employee wellness. This is the scary and sad reality being faced by our society.
That is why we thought we would try and help, by providing information through a practical approach to preventing workplace injuries. By now we all know that workplace injuries are caused one of two things:
Both these have such a grave impact on our lives, but yet we don’t do anything about it. So if you find yourself in the latter category, where your job is physically hurting you. Or maybe you can anticipate that something bad is going to happen if you maintain this course of action and you lack support from the higher ups, regardless of your situation, don’t fret as we have some tips and tricks that you can utilize to ensure you prevent getting injured at work.
Okay, to be fair there are many many ways to approach this but again to make it easily accessible, easy to implement and cost effective we’re going to focus on two main categories; namely:
As both of these are things you can control and change without having to rely on support from elsewhere; it is time to take ownership for your situation.
DISCLAIMER: THE VIEWS, SUGGESTIONS AND PRESCRIPTIONS ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. PLEASE CONSULT YOUR PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN AND OR ALLIED HEALTH PRACTITIONER, REGARDING YOUR SPECIFIC NEEDS. THE VIEWS IN THIS ARTICLE IS OUR OPINION AND SHOULD NOT BE USED TO TREAT OR DIAGNOSE ANY CONDITION/S.
The Science of Ergonomics… What the Heck is Ergonomics?
Now before you start stressing because you are expecting a lecture about the world’s current financial situation. This is not economics, despite the words looking and sounding similar, ergonomics has nothing to do with financials and gross domestic products etc.
Ergonomics also known as human factors is defined as:
“Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance”
Okay so that might sound kind of out there to the average Joe or Joey; but ergonomics is in fact a very well thought out and researched concept in the scientific world. If we were to go further and dissect the word you would see that ergon translated from old Greek dialects means “work” and nomos means “laws”. So essentially ergonomics is the law of work? Can you see how and why this is relevant to your current situation? Some scientific folk even refer to it as the science of working which is why we need to be able to apply it to our lives, but we don’t, as outside the inner circles and scientific communities not much is known and or understand on this topic.
The goal of ergonomics is to remove inefficiencies between the worker and the workplace by creating an optimal working environment. By using many different concepts the science of ergonomics, optimizes the relationship between the working environment and the employee.
The concepts used in ergonomics include, industrial engineering, industrial design, interior design, kinesiology, physiology, biomechanics and even psychology.
However, this concept is very broad and we can spend hours discussing it and it’s importance. But we’d rather not bore you with all that detail; instead we are going to focus on the specific part of ergonomics that is most relevant to us… Workplace Ergonomics.
Workplace ergonomics is a subcategory of one of the three domains of ergonomics, these domains are 1. Physical, 2. Cognitive and 3. Organizational. Workplace is based on the physical domain of this concept and it is what we are going to be looking at.
Workplace ergonomics deal with a number of issues but the most important, at least in my opinion, is the work-related musculoskeletal disorders or conditions. While I was doing research I came across such a perfect description of what workplace ergonomics is:
“At its core, workplace ergonomics is really about building a better workplace. When jobs are designed to match the capabilities of people, it results in better work being produced and a better experience for the person doing it. Through that lens, ergonomics creates value on several fronts. It’s good for your people and good for your business”
This was such a perfect summary of what we are trying to say that I didn’t want to alter or paraphrase it in any way.
Overall the main benefits of implementing workplace economics are namely improving the bottom line by cutting costs and better employee output thanks to better working environments.
But How Do I Implement Ergonomics Myself?
Two words: Desk setup. Or to generalize the term workplace set up for those of you who do not necessarily work at a desk. Mastering this is such an amazing tool and can spare you and your body, so much discomfort in the long run.
Having the correct set up for your workstation is actually something that gets overlooked quite often as we all assume that as long as you have what you need like your computer or laptop, charger and or power outlet and decent desk and chair you are basically good to go. This can’t be further from the reality we are facing, as each desk or workplace set up is unique to every single person.
First things first you will need to look at your working environment, sort of a global view of everything in and around you, while you use the space. So take a moment and have a look at your surroundings, look at the current space you occupy and see whether you have any of the following:
We’ve now covered the elements of the ideal working environment from a macro perspective.
Let’s have a look at the more intricate details which represent the micro perspective of your workstation. Remember when we mentioned the term desk setup? Well, the following elements are needed in order to ensure your desk set up is done ideally.
First things first, you will need to adapt these steps based on the type of desk you have. The sitting vs standing desk debate has gained significant traction in recent times. With the standing desk being deemed, by many, as the superior option. The rationale behind this desk setup is based on the premise that we burn more calories standing than we do sitting. And it is this anecdotal evidence that has spurred the standing desk to fortune and fame. As more and more people are buying standing desks based off of the idea that it is the better option for us.
However, this might not necessarily be the case as the latest research has indicated that there isn’t that much of a difference between standing and sitting at your desk. In some cases the studies carried out by top institutions such as Harvard Medical School, found that the differences in calories burned between the two desks is in fact not significant at all. Some papers report only a 8 calorie difference between standing and sitting.
That being said, is the standing desk all hype or is there actual benefits to using one over a conventional desk setup. To be honest there isn’t a direct answer, but users of standing desks base their backing of this desk on the fact that sitting as an activity, has been directly linked to numerous health concerns. Extensive sitting has been linked to central obesity, diabetes, heart or cardiovascular diseases and conditions and even some forms of cancer. That fact right there should be enough to get your butt up from wherever you might be sitting.
In fact as I am typing this very sentence, I am currently using a standing desk. For no other reason except I feel that it is far better for my posture. And is one of the reasons why I personally am an advocate of the standing desk.
But I’ve never really taken a deep dive into why these desks are so popular. So let’s go ahead and find out what the fuss is all about.
Health Benefits - So besides the fact that standing for the most part forces you to maintain a better posture, there are a lot more benefits to include when discussing this topic. Okay, yes not everyone has great standing posture or posture in general but we are assuming that most people that are interested in this type of desk setup, have a cursory understanding of how your posture should be positioned when standing up right. In addition to this, the reduced risk of developing conditions that might have been caused by extensive sitting, is also a significant health benefit of using a standing desk. The improved posture that comes along with standing more frequently, has the potential to improve your muscle activation in key areas of the body such as the deep core and lumbar regions. These areas are often inactive when we sit for a sustained period of time.
But despite all the positive reviews by standing desk users it is not without its drawbacks. Standing for prolonged periods of time, though good for some parts of the body, might not be so beneficial for others. Joints such as the knees or hips take a very hard punch when standing for that long. This can result in overuse injuries developing as you increase your static weight bearing posture throughout the day. Additionally, the sudden transition from using a sitting desk to now all of a sudden using a standing desk exclusively can have significant detrimental effects on your body. Our bodies are adaptive creatures, so it is always best to progressively introduce a new stimulus.
As you can see, all the benefits associated with using a standing desk seem to be based on the negative effects of sitting too much. Whether this notion holds true, we shall have to wait and see as studies continue. Maybe in another 10 years or so we will have a better idea of what the direct benefits will be; for now I guess it’s up to you to decide whether a standing desk or a sitting desk works best for you.
For a desk set up to be successful you will need to categorize yourself within one of two categories:
In the case of the former, this is usually when you have the opportunity to set up an entire workspace from the beginning. Now whether you’re buying all new stuff or recycling and repurposing used furniture, starting from scratch is always the more ideal scenario as you can set it up to your unique needs from the get go.
The latter is a bit more tricky, however it is not impossible as there are hundreds of adjustable add-ons you can buy these days that will help meet your desk setup needs. However, the tricky part comes into play when trying to modify an existing workspace with additional add-ons. You will have to take space restrictions into consideration and the overall flow of your modified workspace as most add-ons were designed for general setups and not for you specifically.
Regardless of which category you fall under you will still need to consider and implement the same adjustments. And these adjustments all have to do with measurements of distance and height. Your chair height, your desk height, the height of your keyboard, the monitor or screen height, the distance of the monitor to your face, the distance of your body in relation to the actual desk. All of these factors need to be adjusted based on your physical stature. Just FYI these adjustments are relevant for standing desk setups as well.
Now that does seem like a lot of information that might not be readily available or easily implemented as not all of us are seasoned ergonomic professionals. Luckily there are a few websites that have free online tools that you can use to determine the exact dimensions necessary for your specific setup. And for the sake of practicality I will use my stats as an example of how to use one of these online tools to determine my desk setup needs.
Okay, so what you will do is find one of these online tools, please note that these tools are usually hosted on sites that have direct links or are owned by ergonomic consultants or companies that sell ergonomic furniture. So please beware that you might get the occasional advertisement or two. Anyway, as I was saying I went online, and found a cool online tool that was super easy to use. All I needed to do was input my height in centimeters, sorry my American friends, you'll need to do some converting real quick. After I entered my height, the online tool spat out all my stats.
So let’s have a look at what I found out based on my height (168cm, yes I know, cue the short jokes):
Seated Desk Setup
Seat height - 43 cm from the ground
Keyboard height - 65 cm from the ground
Monitor height - 120 cm from the ground
Distance between the monitor and my head - between 50 - 76 cm
Angle of the monitor - between 10 and 20 degrees.
Standing Desk Set Up
Keyboard height - 109 cm from the ground
Monitor height - 160 cm from the ground
Additional tips you can follow are to remember to keep the top edge of the monitor in line or just below your eye level, and to place your monitor perpendicularly to the windows in the room.
As you can see, the information provided is quite thorough with regards to actual dimensions needed for my specific set up. This is extremely useful as you don’t have to use trial and error to try and figure out what the ideal setup for you might be. And if you are in fact in the market for a few new things then applications such as the one I use usually have great recommendations for the perfect desk, chair and everything in between, that will serve your needs.
But that being said, no desk setup is complete without a chair. Having the correct chair is as important as everything else. Without it, you might as well just call it a day and ignore everything we’ve covered up and until now. Okay so that might be a little dramatic but this is just our way of emphasizing the importance of a chair in this equation.
Ergonomic chairs have definitely taken over the market over the last two decades. With the boom in online and professional gaming industries as well as more and more people doing jobs that require lengthy hours in a seated position; the chair has become a fundamental part of our daily lives.
Okay, but what makes a chair ergonomic? Well first things first, lumbar support, the chair needs to follow the natural curvature of your spine. Secondly the chair depth needs to be adequate for your body type; you will need about 4 fingers width between the back of your legs and the edge of the seat. The chair also needs to be able to adjust in terms of height, lumbar support firmness and arm rest height. The chair also needs to have a reclining feature or mechanism. Lastly, the chair should be made out of really good quality materials. Cheaper chairs don’t last as long and only provide temporary support as they tend to wear out faster than their higher quality counterparts.
During my final year at university one of our biggest modules was biomechanics. Which essentially refers to the study of the mechanics of movement. Our professor was a huge advocate of getting our bodies to move in sync. What she meant by this is that our bodies were made to move but not all bodies move equally. Some move faster than others, some move more efficiently than others while some bodies struggle to carry out basic mobility. She taught us that our habits determine our mobility. For example if you have poor posture when sitting due to the fact that you have a terrible work space or poor desk setup; then in the long run this will negatively affect your mobility. Now you might ask how this is possible so let’s make a quick example to help you understand it a bit better.
Let’s say your chair at your workspace isn’t great, now you’re a student on a budget and can’t afford an upgrade in your chair right now. Fair enough, so the major issue with this chair is that it is far too low for your height. Unfortunately, being a cheap chair it doesn’t come with a height adjusting mechanism. So now you sit with your knees in a compromised position in order to compensate for the lack of height the chair has; and you do this repeatedly over the next 12-48 months of your college career. Spending on average 8 hours a day in that seated position, as you are also an avid online gamer. Sitting in this compromised position for that amount of time will result in your hamstrings becoming tighter and shorter, in turn this will affect the length and tightness of your glutes and your lower back. Now go and play some pick up basketball or some five a side football with your friends occasionally, but everytime you play you seem to either cramp up or pull (strain) either of your hamstrings. Can you start to see a picture forming here?
And that is what my professor meant by our habits affect our mobility. What we do repeatedly on a daily basis significantly affects our ability to move efficiently. Now granted, not all habits are bad habits as some habits will have the opposite effect on your mobility. Regardless, taking a deep hard look at your habits can really open our eyes as to why we might be struggling with other things in our lives.
Why does any of this matter?
It is completely normal to be wondering why any of this that I just spoke matters. And to tell you the truth in the greater scheme of things I guess it isn’t as important as everything else that is going on in the world right now.
That being said, we all have a job to do, some of us have to chill at a desk, some of us stand on our feet all day waiting tables while some of us drive fast cars or huge airplanes on a daily basis. Whether you are employed or you do the employing, this topic will affect you either directly or indirectly or maybe even both. Our jobs are a fundamental aspect of our lives and to be honest it is something we should be very very grateful for, especially given the unprecedented times we find ourselves in. Having a job is no longer seen as a “right” but rather a blessing, as so many people have lost their jobs, livelihoods and even their lives.
So I don’t want us to lose perspective, why let’s turn the tide and appreciate the blessing we have of being able to wake up each day and work towards making a life for ourselves and our family and or loved ones. That is why I need you to take the pandemic and its impact on your day to day job a bit more seriously. That is why I need you to start looking at yourself and your habits; start making a conscious effort to be better for yourself. This is why understanding what risks lead to workplace injuries is so important. Educating yourselves not only on how to manage and treat workplace injuries but also how to go about preventing them in the long term.
Please understand that this is by no means a shot at any specific person or any organizations. This was simply a way of looking at a current issue that we as employees and employers are currently facing. A problem that has now been compounded to a certain degree; a problem that we believe required some attention.
But that being said, it isn’t all doom and gloom as it might be made out to be. That is because we now finally have a solution to the problem. And there has never been a more perfect time to look at yourself and make the changes you desire. Because trust me, everyone has something they can improve on.