Office-wide ergonomics – small changes to improve everyone’s posture
Workers can spend up to 50 hours per week in the office, meaning that more than half of their waking life is in your control. The changes suggested below can help to minimise the likelihood of injuries and accidents developing on your watch. Of course there will be many other factors in each persons life that make it impossible to predict and prevent injuries completely but by taking preventative action your staff will appreciate the effort.
Install a watercooler stand to reduce bending forward and twisting when refilling water bottles or cups.
If you’ve ever used a water cooler that’s too low, you’ll know about it. That awkward lean and twist to keep the cup or bottle in place because leaving the cup on its own will spell disaster.
The structures of the spine have not evolved to have pressure placed through them in a forward-bend/twist position. Pressure is placed on the nerves in the area that can (with enough pressure over time) send the area into spasm. Personally I have known patients who have thrown their back out from reaching for a plastic bag under a sink through this mechanism.
The taller the user, the more the spine has to compromise and the UK population is steadily growing taller. By minimising the amount each user has to lean at the water cooler, you can lower the chances of a WMSD (work-related musculoskeletal disorder) affecting your business.
Encourage your staff to wear flat shoes to prevent ladies from arching their lower backs whilst at work.
When losing your balance your automatic reaction is to throw your weight the other way to avoid falling over. High heels have this persistent effect on the centre of gravity of their users (which are, more often that not, women).
By propping up the ankles by just a few inches, the pelvis rotates forward so the lumbar spine has to extend in order to prevent from falling forward. When the spine extends beyond its normal range of movement the soft structures are compromised, including muscles and nerves. It also reduces the likelihood of tripping on an unstable heel.
Alternative footwear can be encouraged like pumps or sandals, although depending on the amount of time the user has been wearing them, there may be some initial resistance as the body gets used to the new walking pattern.
Encourage staff to carry a backpack instead of messenger back weighing no more than 10% of their bodyweight.
By placing weight on one side of the spine on a regular basis (like during the daily commute to and from the office) the spine slowly changes its shape to make carrying it easier. The pressure is normally in form of either using a messenger bag or a backpack on just one shoulder. This is rarely for the best and nearby structures such as discs and ribs may become compromised as the spine bends to one side, called a scoliotic pattern. Nearly everyone has slight scoliosis but with extra pressure other conditions can result.
If you have a branded messenger work bag, it will benefit your staff for the next iteration to be a padded double-strap backpack. A laptop pocket at the back of the pack will help to keep their centre of gravity close and padded straps will be important to encourage them to wear both on their shoulders.
It’s often recommended that backpack users do not carry any more than 10% of their bodyweight, owing to the damage that overloading can do to the muscles and discs of the spine. If mainly office-based, staff can be encouraged to leave as much of their heavy equipment at work as possible in order to minimise the weight on their spines.
Create an optional daily stretch class to prevent muscle creep from hours of sitting.
Hours of sitting at a desk can take its toll on computer users. When used in a certain position for a long time, muscles lose their elasticity in a phenomenon known as ‘muscle creep’. For staff and your business, this means that it is much more likely to develop into a WMSD, possibly in the form of a muscle strain or nerve entrapment.
While it’s not impossible to undo the damage that static sitting can do, it’s always better to prevent it. Regular stretching during the work day can help to minimise the likelihood of a WMSD developing. Even better, the act of stepping away from the desk on an extra officially-sanctioned break will leave the staff who take part feeling refreshed and re-energised, making them feel better within themselves and more productive when they get back to work.
Take advantage of your office seating.
Many offices spend thousands of pounds on high quality seating but fail to take advantage of the adjustable features, instead focusing on the comfort of each staff member.
Adjustable lumbar supports, arm rests, seat pans as well as the height and tilt angle of each chair can make a world of difference to employee posture whilst at their desk. Each staff member has vastly different shape and body size so give us a call on 0118 380 0385 to see how we can help.
Desktop power strips
Of all of the staff we have worked with during our DSE Workstation Assessment days, more than half stated that they charge their phone or tablet at work. In order to reduce clutter at work, especially with client-facing desks, more power strips are situated under the desk. This is probably one of the worst places to have an item that the staff will be reaching for regularly.
In order to reduce the load on the spine, place the power strip on the desk, wall mount it, or purchase the staff a USB hub that plugs into the mains or their laptop. The first suggestion increases clutter but is free, the second depends upon your tenancy agreement with the building owner, and the third is more costly but ultimately more useful.
Store heavier items at waist/torso height.
Anyone who has gone through manual handling training will tell you how important it is to use your knees when lifting a heavy object from the floor. This is to reduce the amount of strain going through the lumbar spine and allow the knees (which are shaped to take the pressure and have the mobility) to take the weight instead.
By storing heavy objects (reems of paper, water cooler bottle replacements) at torso height in the supply cupboard it is easier for the person lifting them to transport. It only takes a small movement to incapacitate an employee with back pain, so reduce the number of opportunities. One question I get asked is “how do we get the heavy objects up to chest height in the first place?” to which my response is that the person resupplying the store cupboard will have to be trained in manual handling. However, in any office I would recommend everyone get trained anyway – it’s a valuable life skill if you value your spine.
As a regular gym-goer, I can tell you that this is something that many gyms get wrong with their barbell racks. Search Google Images and see that nearly every single rack has the heaviest weights on the bottom rung.