Ergoform height-adjustable desks and ergonomic chairs

Ergonomics, Part 1: The physical and emotional benefits

Ergonomics is a term that conjures up images of hyper-stylised office chairs and strangely designed knee rests. And we hear experts say it is to help with posture.

But what if we told you ergonomics is so much more than how you sit? It goes beyond the chair you buy or the monitor arm bolted to your wall. This term is an umbrella that encompasses a variety of scientific principles from various fields.

In this first of a two-part series, we explain the ins and outs of ergonomics. In part two, we give you some pro tips about how you can find the best furniture for you and/or your team.

Ergonomics is science

Believe it or not, but ergonomics looks at both your physiological and psychological wellbeing. See, the definition of ergonomics is “the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment”. This means it looks at designing a workplace, environment, product, and/or system for the people who use them by applying data, methods, theory, and principles from physiology, psychology, engineering, and statistics.

Essentially, ergonomics help to complement user strengths and weeds out as many limitations as possible. To achieve this, the field can be divided into three distinct types that influence the individual, but aid in overall employee and workplace health when combined. Let us take a look:

Ergonomics by type

To better understand how ergonomics influence you both physically and emotionally, here are the three main types of ergonomics:

Physical: This is the easy one. It is concerned with the posture you adopt while doing a task and how your body interacts with the tools you use. Overall, it looks at individual comfort.
Informational: Also called cognitive ergonomics, this looks at how your mind processes and interacts with data.
Organisational: In opposition to the physical mentioned above, this looks at the optimisation of the workplace as a whole.

Combined, these three categories work together to form a healthy workplace environment for both individuals and organisations.

The principles of ergonomics

To achieve both the physical and emotional benefits of ergonomics, these principles will help you identify risks and mitigate their impact.

  1. Maintain a neutral posture
    Neutral postures reduce the stress applied to muscles, joints, bones, tendons, and nerves. 

  2. Work in the power zone
    The power zone is the area in the centre of your body between the shoulders and the knees. This is where the body can lift with the least amount of effort. Working in this zone allows you to maintain a neutral posture and minimizes excessive reach.

  3. Allow for movement and stretching
    Working for long periods in a static position can cause your body to become fatigued. Working while seated at a desk is a good example of static work. Periodical stretching and adjustable desks will help reduce fatigue and improve posture and muscular balance.

  4. Reduce excessive force
    This is a primary risk factor in employees and can be mitigated with mechanical aids, counterbalance systems, and adjustable tables. 

  5. Reduce excessive motions
    Another primary risk factor is repetitive motion. A reduction in repetition and elimination of force and awkward positions and the addition of breaks for stretching will aid in overall ergonomics.

  6. Minimise contact stress
    The continuous interaction of soft body parts with hard surfaces or sharp objects can increase stress. Examples include wrists pressing against the edge of a desk, continuous hammering by hand, or tools pressing into the hands and arms. This localised pressure can be mitigated by changing position, wearing protective clothing, or the addition of mechanical aids.

  7. Reduce excessive vibration
    Studies have found that regular and frequent exposure to vibrations can have permanent adverse health effects, such as tinnitus, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc. A reduction in the exposure to vibration and implementation of aids can aid in the mitigation of these effects.

  8. Implement adequate lighting
    It will help reduce eye strain, increase comfort, and productivity adequate light levels are required in the workplace. 

  9. Better overall environmental factors
    As discussed in this post, healthy work environments contribute to overall wellness, productivity, and happiness in the workplace. Ensuring comfortable temperatures and humidity, with low noise levels, CO2 and TVOCs contribute to overall employee health and wellness.

Key elements of ineffective ergonomics

Now, we must ask what happens to a workplace and its employees if there are no ergonomic principles applied. In his book, An Introduction to Ergonomics, Dr. R.S. Bridger breaks down the key points as follows:

  1. Accidents, errors, and injuries – sub-optimally designed interfaces, or excess mental or physical stress;
  2. Fatigue – due to inadequately designed workflow;
  3. Inefficiency – sub-optimal output;
  4. User difficulties – inappropriate combinations of subtasks making interaction cumbersome; and
  5. Low morale and apathy – subpar work, a decrease in productivity, uninspired workers, and an overall lack of innovation.

Bridger explains that in the field of ergonomics these factors are seen as “system problems” and not “people problems”. In essence, this means that the solution lies more in better systems than management or incentives.

Benefits of effective implementation

While it may seem like a daunting task, implementing ergonomic principles in your company or personal workspace, is an effective and long-lasting step to improving your company, quality of work, and employee health. Unlike many other facility changes ergonomics can be a one-time investment that – once implemented within the guidelines – will have positive impacts on you and/or your company.

  1. Better ergonomics solutions increase overall productivity
  2. There is a notable decrease in physical tension
  3. Reductions in employee stress levels
  4. Increased quality of work and fewer mistakes
  5. Facility cost reduction
  6. Overall increases in employee health
  7. Improved facility wellness
  8. Reduction in absenteeism
  9. Increased employee safety
  10. An increase in morale

Ergonomics can be implemented with minimal impact through systems such as the ISO 6385:2016 – Ergonomic principles in the design of work systems. These allow companies to effectively negate risks and work toward overall employee health and wellness.

For further reading

Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors: