HR Management & Compliance

What Is Ergonomics, and Why Does It Matter to Employers?

While ergonomics is frequently delegated to the realm of safety professionals, it can be a great focus for HR as well—reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and healthier employees are all benefits. Business consultant Bridget Miller has some ergonomics tips for employers.

Ergonomics refers to the study of how people interact with their working environment and then adjusting that environment to improve efficiency—all while reducing the chance for injury and optimizing well-being and productivity. This assessment and adjustment takes into account the individual’s physical characteristics as well as the movements and actions needed to accomplish the job. In short, it means employers are adapting the job and the work environment to suit the worker, rather than making the worker adapt. (This practice is also sometimes referred to as “human factors,” but ergonomics is actually just one component of the overall study of human factors.)

Ergonomic assessments and adjustments can have many benefits, such as:

  • Reducing injuries sustained from poor working environments. Examples of these injuries include:
    • Strains;
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome;
    • Tendonitis;
    • Other repetitive motion injuries;
    • Back injuries and other musculoskeletal problems; and
    • Arthritis.
  • Helping to reduce absences caused by injuries.
  • Lessening the chance of fatigue and injury, which can improve productivity.

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Employers care about ergonomics not only because it can obviously help prevent employees from sustaining injuries but also because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to take steps to ensure workplace safety. While there are no specific requirements relating to ergonomics, these types of considerations fall under the General Duty Clause. (That said, OSHA does talk about ergonomic considerations when discussing prevention of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace.)

Separate from OSHA regulations, many industries have their own voluntary ergonomics guidelines.

Ergonomics 101: What Should an Employer Consider?

Even employers that are sold on the idea of improving the workplace to reduce the chance of injury may not know where to begin. Here are some common areas that employers review and improve when undertaking an ergonomic assessment and improvement program:

  • The design, layout, and function of workspaces. Here are a few examples for an office environment (this list is not comprehensive; it’s simply an overview):
    • Chair height should be checked and made suitable for the height of the individual. This takes into account the height from the floor to the knee, and also the height in relation to using the desk. Supports for feet may be needed if the desk cannot be moved.
    • Computer monitors should be located an appropriate distance away from the edge of the desk and should be at the proper height to discourage neck strain. They should have the ability to tilt forward or back as needed. The screen should have brightness controls and should be adjusted appropriately. Glare filters should be used if necessary.

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    • Phones should have hands-free devices and/or headsets to minimize neck strain while in use.
    • Keyboards should be movable.
  • Placement of tools. Are commonly used tools and equipment located in the most appropriate place to be used efficiently?
  • Lighting. Lighting should be appropriate for the task to reduce eyestrain.
  • Placement and of ease of use for other frequently used items. Controls and displays should be easy to reach and to read. Items that are accessed regularly should be placed in such a way so that it does not require straining or extreme stretching to retrieve them.
  • Employee training. For example:
    • Employees should be given tips and training on reducing the chance of injury in the workspace.
    • Training should be provided on how to safely bend and lift items and how to access items that are difficult to reach.
    • Training could also include information on repetitive motion and vibration injuries and how to avoid them.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Bridget Miller presents the rest of her ergonomics considerations for employers, plus an introduction to the new complimentary webcast sponsored by BambooHR, HR Technology Trends: How New Innovations Are Shaping Human Resources in 2015 and Beyond.