Workplace ergonomics: Top ten tips for a comfortable workstation

workplace-ergonomics

Robin Christopherson says more homeworking means that employers must take workplace ergonomics seriously. Here, he explains how to avoid problems with employees’ workstations.

There are more than 10 million office workers in the UK, a huge proportion of the workforce. How and where we work is changing, and around 48% of office workers now have the option to work remotely or “from home”. For office and remote workers alike the workstation is central to working life. We spend, on average, just over 42 hours per week at work in Britain.

The right workstation is critical for creating a safe and healthy work environment and can have a huge impact on all employees, especially those with a disability. The UK has a long tradition of health and safety legislation, but recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that 28.2 million working days are lost due to work-related illness or workplace injury each year. How we set up our workstations might be partly to blame for this.

One size does not fit all

Creating and sustaining safe and healthy workstations for employees can help increase productivity, reduce sickness absence and improve retention rates.

Better workstation ergonomics can benefit everyone and, in some cases, can help reduce the risk of temporary conditions becoming a permanent disability.

In an average office:

  • 10% of people are left-handed;
  • 15% will not be able to read a 10-point font without straining their eyes;
  • 10% of people or more will have dyslexia; and
  • 20% will acquire a disability, permanent or temporary, at some point during their working life.

As many as 90% of people in the UK use a computer at work, and many people use a workstation that may not be a “desk” in the traditional sense. It is essential that employers know what practical advice to give employees who have multiple workstations.

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Hot-desking can be problematic for disabled employees who may need to have their workstations specially set up to accommodate their needs. In fact, designating a specific workstation for a disabled employee would be considered a reasonable adjustment.

Employers must provide reasonable adjustments to prevent discrimination, and this includes modifications to an employee’s workstation. Changes to office furniture, provision of adapted mouse or keyboards, changes to working patterns or the way people work with colleagues will all be reasonable adjustments.

Many alterations can be achieved at little or no cost to the employer. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and it is vital to appreciate that the right reasonable adjustments can be achieved only by working with the individual to identify their needs, combined with an awareness of the available solutions.

Some common workstation issues that cause problems

Poorly adjusted unsuitable chairs, badly positioned monitors and keyboards, users not knowing how to use the mouse correctly and other issues with workstation ergonomics will, over time, result in some employees having physical symptoms such as a painful spine, burning or aching limbs, pins and needles or numbness. The main causes of these physical symptoms are:

  • improperly adjusted furniture and equipment;
  • poorly organised or inappropriate workstation layout;
  • prolonged awkward and/or twisted postures;
  • excessive stretches and reaches;
  • static postures; and
  • stress and muscular tension.

Vision, hearing and mental health can also be affected. And, for employees with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, poor workstation ergonomics can be detrimental to productivity and performance.

And finally, if an employee is already some way down the road of experiencing pain or discomfort, then exercises recommended by an accredited physiotherapist can help alleviate, and often totally relieve, such symptoms.

Top ten tips for a comfortable workstation

  1. Move the chair close to the workstation.
  2. Sit upright, supported by the chair’s back support.
  3. Incline the seat 5-10° downwards.
  4. Sit with feet flat on the floor, or supported by a footstool.
  5. Sit directly in front of the computer screen and keyboard to avoid neck twisting.
  6. Position screens at eye level (laptops should be raised and use a separate keyboard) and look into the far distance every few minutes to vary focal length and avoid eyestrain.
  7. Check the direction of the light source to avoid glare or reflections on the screen. Place the screen at right angles to the window when possible.
  8. Relax shoulders, periodically check they do not become tense, rise up or hunch.
  9. Let upper arms hang down naturally from shoulders – there should be a right angle at your elbow when typing.
  10. Never use keyboard or mouse wrist rests for permanently resting your wrists on while you are working.