For years, workers sat in corporate-issued metal chairs, and no one gave it a second thought. But there’s a growing body of evidence pointing to the health hazards of prolonged sitting, which has helped put ergonomics on Corporate America’s radar.
While the idea of designing office equipment that supports the body’s movements might seem relatively new, ergonomics – also known as human factors engineering – emerged as a real concern during World War II for the performance and safety of military aircrafts, naval ships and large-scale weapons.
Since then, researchers have linked prolonged periods of sitting with health concerns such as obesity and metabolic syndrome – the latter of which is a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and dangerous cholesterol levels. They’ve also found evidence that too much sitting increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic.
“Ergonomics is totally mainstream in the workplace now,” says Levine, a leading researcher in the field of inactivity studies. “There’s been an explosion of research in this area, because the health care cost implications are so enormous.”
Neutral Posture Inc., a Bryan, Texas-based manufacturer of workplace ergonomic seating products and accessories, offers these eight tips to improve ergonomics in your workplace:
- Stand up for your work. Raising workstations to standing height for two hours a day (and putting taller cylinders and footrests on chairs) enables workers to be more active.
- Pay homage to the chair. An ergonomically designed chair can help minimize the physical stress of prolonged sitting.
- Reduce glare. Installing an adjustable monitor arm reduces glare and helps minimize eyestrain.
- Arm yourself with support. Keyboard trays and forearm supports bring the work surface to the individual, shifting weight off the neck and shoulders and lowering the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Read the directions. When purchasing a new chair or ergonomic accessory, spend some time learning about the various adjustment options. While there are recommendations on how to adjust a chair for the perfect ergonomic posture (known as the “neutral posture”), an individual worker might desire a different position.
- Track your pain. When workers experience inconsistent or random pain, they should keep track of it and note what they were doing before the pain hit. Tracking pain can help workers detect patterns and make adjustments, such as lowering their chair or sitting in a different chair.
- Get moving. Schedule walking meetings. Take stretch breaks. Find ways to stay active throughout the workday.
- Consult an ergonomic expert. Ergonomics is the study of the body at work. A good ergonomics program can help reduce lost-time injuries and workers’ compensation costs. Designate someone in the company to provide ergonomic workstation assessments, or enlist the help of an ergonomic consultant.
Rebecca Congleton Boenigk, co-founder and CEO of Neutral Posture, asserts that ergonomics can improve the health of workers and the bottom line.