Ergonomic correctness … it’s a matter of mechanics. Not those who work on your cars or household appliances, but the function of your body in the spaces where you live, work, and move each day.
Merriam Webster defines ergonomics as “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.”
In orthopedic terms, ergonomics means your environment fits your body and allows you to function at maximum capacity without the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Ergonomics helps you avoid stress, strain, and overuse injuries caused by working, standing, or sitting in awkward positions.
The University of California at San Diego lists 14 ergonomic risk factors that you may encounter at work or home.
- Awkward positions
- Compression or contact stress
- Forceful exertions
- Insufficient rest breaks
- Pushing or pulling
- Repetitive motion
- Static or sustained postures
- Temperature extremes
How many of these risks do you encounter during your day? Here are a few areas to consider.
Whether you sit at a desk in a downtown office from 8 to 5 or you spend your evenings standing at an assembly line to keep production moving, the science of ergonomics makes a difference in your productivity. While the physical requirements at work are unique to the job, the human body’s response to ergonomic working spaces and posture are similar. Consider these questions.
If you sit:
Does your workstation allow you to sit with your body centered in front of the task?
Do your desk and chair enable you to sit with your feet flat on the floor?
Is the top of your workspace or counter one inch below your elbows?
Is your screen positioned at eye level?
If you stand:*
Do your shoes provide proper arch support?
Do you stand on an ergonomic floormat?
Are footrests available to allow you to shift your body weight and relieve back strain?
Are your work surfaces located at the proper height for the type of work you do? (Precision assembly should be positioned 2 inches above elbow height, assembly line work should be placed 2 to 4 inches below elbow height, and heavy work requiring downward force should be located 8 to 16 inches below elbow height.**)
No matter where you work, experts recommend that you change positions every 30 minutes to avoid muscle tension from holding your body in one spot for too long.
You may need to make changes to your work area if you feel any of the following symptoms.
Tightness, tension, or pain in your neck or the back of your shoulders from tilting your head up or down to see your computer screen.
Raise or lower your computer screen.
Use an independent keyboard and elevate your laptop.
Adjust the height of your chair.
Discomfort in your elbows, shoulders, forearms, or back caused by a counter or desk that is the improper height.
Adjust your chair’s height.
Stand on an elevated platform.
Request a lower workstation.
Pain in your wrists due to bending or flexing your wrists more than 15 degrees.
Raise or lower your chair or platform.
Raise or lower your work surface.
Heaviness or pain in your feet, legs, and back from standing on hard surfaces.
Practice good posture.
Change positions often.
Wear supportive shoes.
Invest in a quality, non-slip, cushioned floormat.
You can take an online ergonomic assessment to identify areas that need to be changed in your office environment.
Remember, the ergonomic principals that apply at work also apply at home and in your car.
Ergonomics work in the kitchen.
We know most injuries happen when you’re tired and stressed, for some people getting dinner on the table after a stressful day at work meets that criteria. Creating an ergonomically functional space in your kitchen can help you avoid strains and sprains at home.
Where are the utensils, dishes, and pans you use every day? Do you have to stretch or bend in unnatural positions to reach them? If so, rethink your storage areas.
Do you have non-skid, padded floormats in front of your sink, stove, and other main prep areas? Floormats can help you avoid tired legs at the end of a hard day.
Are the heavier and bulkier items, such as flour, potatoes, and cast-iron pans, stored in areas where they can be lifted easily without causing back strain?
Ergonomics work in your car.
Think about your last two-hour road trip. How did you feel when you arrived at your destination? Did you feel like you were unfolding an origami project as you stood to remove the kinks from your backs, hips, and knees or did you get out of the car with grace and ease?
Adjusting your seat to fit your body can lead to pleasurable road trips free of knee pain, back pain, and other discomforts. Sitting in an awkward position for a long drive while absorbing the vibration of the ride are just a few of the ergonomic risk factors you encounter while riding or driving.
Ergonomicssimplified.com offers tips and diagrams about proper seat fit. They suggest starting with the seat back fully reclined and the seat as low as possible. Starting from the wrong position, helps you put your seat in the correct position.
1) To prevent knee pain, align your knees and your hips so they form a straight line. You can also sit with your hips slightly higher than your knees.
2) Raise your seat so you can see out of the windshield without bending or tilting your head.
3) Move your seat forward enough to press the brake, gas pedal, and clutch completely to the floor, but don’t get so close that your knees cramp after driving a few miles.
4) Recline your seat back slightly and adjust your lumbar support to avoid low-back pain. Sitting at a 90-degree angle is not a healthy driving position.
5) Sit with your entire thigh in contact with the seat to prevent stress and strain on your knees and hips.
6) Adjust the headrest to support the middle of your head.
7) Slide the steering wheel up or down to achieve a comfortable angle for your elbows. Bending your elbows too much can make them feel stiff. Reaching your arms too far forward can cause neck and shoulder strain.
You can find more tips for comfortable driving at http://www.ergonomicssimplified.com/tips/driving
The principals of ergonomics apply whether you are working in a manufacturing plant, sitting at a desk, driving across town, or preparing dinner. You are the best person to assess the ergonomics of your workspaces.
If you notice tense muscles, a loss of motion, or joint pain while at work, talk to your human resources department about changes you can make to have a healthy workspace that fits your body.