In this article
The term ‘ergonomic’ means the fit between a person and their environment. For the purposes of this article, when we talk about the environment, we mean a person’s workplace. By using an ergonomic approach in the workplace, you can create a better environment for your workforce leading to greater productivity and improved overall wellbeing.
Wellbeing is a crucial factor in people’s lives. It ensures that a person is as healthy and happy as possible. When we talk about wellbeing, we include a person’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social areas of development; and each of these areas can be protected using an ergonomic approach.
In contemporary society, we spend the majority of our lives at work. British employees can, on average, work a staggering 84,365 hours in their lifetime! Due to this, it is important that your best interests are protected at work; especially from incidents and accidents that could have easily been avoided with proper care and consideration from your employer.
In the UK, 44% of injuries at work are due to musculoskeletal damage, which can be prevented by using an ergonomic approach to mitigate the risk of injury and by using the correct moving and handling techniques.
Musculoskeletal injury covers physical injuries to your body such as:
- Repetitive strain injuries – Such as pain in the joints in your hand from straining using computer equipment.
- Back pain – From not sitting in an appropriate chair.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Which causes pain in the wrists from putting too much pressure on them. This can be due to repetitive movements.
- Hernia – From lifting a heavy object.
- Sprains – From overextending a ligament. This can be caused by an improper desk set-up.
What is an ergonomic approach?
The word ‘ergo’ is derived from Latin, and means work. This is combined with the second half of the word (which is ‘nomics’) meaning laws. When these two words are combined, it can be translated to the ‘laws of work’, insinuating that ergonomics shows the correct ways of working.
When the approach is used well in business, efficiency can improve because it allows people to work in their optimum environment where they feel comfortable to be their best selves and are kept safe.
The ergonomic approach belongs to the social sciences as its focuses on human behaviour. It is a social science that was found by studying humans and how they interact with their surroundings. Using a person-centred approach, ergonomics ensures that the environment fits the people and does not force the people to fit their environment.
This is a great approach to use in business because it helps you as a business owner to match people to jobs that they can excel at. Tasks can be divided up into people’s strengths so that each person can excel at their specialism. Any required equipment can also be matched to the employee, to further speed up processes whilst maintaining employee health and safety.
What are the five aspects of ergonomics?
There are five key aspects of an ergonomic approach that employers can use as a guide to ensure that they are making the workplace suitable for their workforce. These aspects can be transferred to any workplace setting to protect your employees.
We will go into further detail about each of these areas below:
Health and safety at work is of paramount importance in the UK. There are many laws and regulations that protect employees in the workplace so that they can work in a safe environment and have a reduced chance of injury. In ergonomics, safety covers any objects that the employee may use to carry out their job to ensure that they are safe for that person to use.
This includes items such as:
- Electrical equipment.
- Assembly lines.
- Providing the relevant personal protective equipment.
As well as physical equipment, safety includes keeping the workforce well informed about how to keep themselves safe. Employers can provide information, advice, training and instructions about relevant safety issues. This is because when you are at work, it is both the employer’s and the employees’ responsibility to maintain health and safety.
Many jobs require employees to remain in the same position for long periods of time. This is what can often cause the musculoskeletal injuries that we listed at the start of this article. It is important that employees who are performing repetitive tasks such as working at a computer or lifting and moving objects do not overexert themselves. This removes the risk of strains and further damage to the body.
The temperature of a workplace is also covered in this. Health and safety legislation details limits for the maximum and minimum temperatures that employees should work in; this adds to the comfort of a person’s working environment so that they are not placed in uncomfortable environments.
Employees may also require specific items to complete their jobs comfortably such as clothing, footwear and protective equipment. This can all support them in their role.
Ease of use
Ease of use means how easy it is to complete a specific task. Employers should not intentionally or unintentionally create work that is physically difficult for a person to complete. Employees should be able to perform tasks using easy physical movements that do not put stress on the body.
This also helps to prevent musculoskeletal injury. Introducing easier working methods can help a workforce achieve greater productivity levels as they will be able to complete more work at a faster pace because the work is not causing them to tire as quickly.
Productivity and performance
Productivity means how much a person can do in a set time. Employers desire employees who use their work time wisely and achieve the maximum output in the allotted time frame. Having greater productivity leads to better performance.
Productivity and performance should be managed by employers. Employers should apply an ergonomic approach to performance management to enhance their workforce. Managers can observe how employees carry out work tasks to see if processes can be simplified, making it easier for the employee to carry them out whilst also maximising productivity and performance.
In ergonomics, aesthetics refers to an employee’s workstation. If a person is happy with their workstation, they are more likely to be happier completing their work. A person’s environment has an unconscious impact on their mood and wellbeing, and having an environment that is pleasing to the eye can have a huge impact on an employee’s motivation to get work done.
It also includes how easy a workstation is to use. Are the operating procedures displayed? Are there warning signs clearly labelled on machinery? Is information about moving and handling techniques readily available? If an employee understands how to use their workstation and follow the work processes, they will be more confident in the work that they complete.
Where would an ergonomic approach be applied?
An ergonomic approach is a way to plan work tasks in the workplace in order to benefit the workforce. When you have a happy workforce, business is likely to improve because people have a more positive mindset when completing their work.
Due to this, it can be applied in many areas of work such as:
- Front of house staff – Front of house staff are working on their feet all day greeting and serving customers. What ergonomics can do in this situation is to ensure that staff are able to carry out their job to the best of their ability so that customers are always receiving the best service. Employers can use the five aspects of ergonomics to do this by ensuring the workforce have comfortable footwear and that they have been taught the correct manual handling techniques to carry items to customers, and by also monitoring productivity so that workers are working efficiently.
- Office/desk workers – Repetitive strain and associated injuries are extremely common for office workers because they sit in the same position all day. Although this may not seem strenuous, it can cause back problems and hand and wrist injuries by not having the appropriate training or equipment. What ergonomics can do here is use aesthetics to ensure that workers’ desks are fit for purpose.
- Staff operating machinery – Similar to the above point, repetitive strain can occur from doing the same motions all day. Ergonomics can ensure that machinery is easy to use, and that staff have the proper safety instructions to operate that machinery.
- Driving staff – What ergonomics can do for driving staff is support them to plan the best routes (improving productivity), as well as ensure safe driving practices (such as regular breaks). Employers should check that workers are comfortable driving the required vehicles so that they feel confident to drive. This can reduce accidental injury and repetitive strain injury from long periods on the road.
Why is it important to manage ergonomic risk?
It is important to manage ergonomic risk so that you have a workforce that are happy and safe at work. An unhappy workforce results in reduced productivity and leaves room for work errors that can lead to injury. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 places a duty on employers to provide a safe workplace for employees. Any risks that are identified should be either removed altogether, reduced or mitigated.
Musculoskeletal disorders can cost employers a lot of money through insurance claims, loss of productivity, sickness absence, sickness pay, increased healthcare costs and compensation costs (in the event that an employee were to make a claim against their employer). However, much of this is preventable when a thorough risk assessment is carried out and proper moving and handling techniques are used. It ensures that risks are mitigated. This can all be done using an ergonomic approach.
What are the main ergonomic risk factors?
We have previously mentioned some of the main ergonomic risk factors that are linked to musculoskeletal damage. However, there are many other risks that can be managed by using an ergonomic approach.
- Noise and sound pollution – Employees need to be able to concentrate on the work that they are carrying out. This means that work environments should consider what type of work is being done, the level of concentration required for the job, and how each person doing the job prefers the noise levels.
- Artificial lighting – Many people working in front of screens can get headaches and migraines from the bright lights. This can be reduced by providing dimmer light environments and glasses that filter blue light from computer screens.
- Work stress – Putting too much pressure on employees can lead to stress. This can cause staff to need time off work to recover from the situation.
- Poor posture – Many workplaces offer workstation training prior to workers beginning the job. This ensures that staff can ask for the relevant equipment required for them to be comfortable to do their job.
How should ergonomic risk be managed?
There are many ways that employers can manage ergonomic risk factors in the workplace. Some options have already been mentioned throughout this article. Most risks will require a combination of actions to reduce the likelihood of an adverse outcome from happening.
As a general rule, for most risks, the following three solutions can help to prevent or reduce risks in the workplace:
- Remove the hazard – Removing the hazard altogether is the best way of preventing something bad from happening. However, as with most things in life, not all risks can easily be removed, so instead we must reduce the risk.
- Policies and procedures – One way of reducing risk in most areas of the workplace is by having strong policies and procedures in place. Not only does this tell your workers the best working practices to keep themselves safe, but it also places administrative control on an identified risk to show that you have taken due care and attention as an employer.
- Provide the relevant safety equipment – There are things that can keep us safe in many areas of work. For manual work, this can include helmets, kneepads and goggles, but in healthcare this can include face masks, aprons and gloves. As an employer, you should assess the risk of each person’s role to identify which type of equipment can best protect them.