Workplace Ergonomics 101: All Your Questions Answered

As companies worldwide begin to tout their products, services and workspaces as “ergonomic”, office workers have several questions regarding this growing buzz. You may have guessed that ergonomics is significant in some way or another, but you may still be asking this critical question:  What does ergonomics actually mean?

This article goes back to basics and discusses everything from the definition of ergonomics to how an ergonomically sound office workstation will help you avoid fatigue and discomfort. Whether you’re a Health and Safety Officer looking to provide a safe work environment for remote workers or simply an employee who wants to avoid fatigue, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. What is Workplace Ergonomics?

The word ‘ergonomics’ comes from two Greek words called “ergon”, which means work and “nomos”, which means laws. Put simply, it is the science or laws of work. By definition, office ergonomics or workplace ergonomics refers to the process of optimising your work environment for better health, comfort and productivity.

2. Why is ergonomics important in the office environment?

Our musculoskeletal system comprises bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues that work together to support our body’s weight and help us move. When the body is in an awkward position for a long time, is subjected to repetitive movement or extreme temperature, we may feel pain, discomfort or fatigue. These symptoms may develop into something known as a Musculoskeletal Disorder or an MSD. 

MSDs are a common and costly problem in the Irish Labour Market. Here are some statistics by The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions:

  • 49% of all absences from work are from MSDs. Ireland ranks just above the average at 50%.
  • The annual direct cost of MSDs at work is estimated to be at least €750 million.  
  • Twice as many working days are lost through MSDs than stress in Ireland.
  • Over 50% of Irish workers experience muscular pain in their neck, shoulders and upper limbs.

These statistics show that preventative actions are now more critical than ever. MSDs are preventable, and a proactive ergonomic process is a massive step in diagnosing and preventing work-related musculoskeletal illnesses. 

3. What are the advantages of an ergonomic workspace?

Better Health: This is a big one. Employees who work in an ergonomically sound workspace have improved health. Ergonomics creates a safer work environment, removes hazards and gives employees a space to thrive. An ergonomically optimised workspace makes equipment feel more natural and safe. Thus, eliminating aches, pains and discomfort that employees experience during their time at work.

Better Focus: It is not possible to focus on a task when all you can think of is the throbbing pain in your back. Ergonomics decreases pain and increases blood flow, making it easy for you to focus on the task at hand. When every employee of the firm is provided with proper tools and a safe environment to work in, productivity levels are sure to rise. Less anxiety and stress means more productivity and focus!

Reduced Absenteeism: According to the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC), absenteeism costs employers around €1.5 billion per year in Ireland. Incorporating proper ergonomic practices into the work environment results in healthy and pain-free workers, which leads to lesser absenteeism in the workplace.

Happier Workplace Culture: At its heart, workplace ergonomics is all about building a better workplace. And workplace ergonomics helps create just that. Poor posture can give rise to pain and discomfort that can affect one’s mood. The better you utilise ergonomics, the happier your employees will be. When a company creates a safe environment to work from, it clearly indicates that they care for their employees. This can improve company culture and employee wellbeing in more ways than one.

How can companies ensure proper ergonomics for their remote workforce?

The responsibility for the health and safety of employees rests with the employer regardless of where the employee works. The Health and Safety Authority of Ireland has several guidelines in place for companies planning on a return to the office, as well as companies that choose to operate remotely. That said, the first step in accessing the benefits of ergonomics in your home office is to get a workstation assessment.

A workstation assessment or a DSE assessment is an evaluation to protect the health of employees who typically use screens. Aside from this being a legal requirement, it helps identify and prevent postural problems and musculoskeletal disorders. A competent assessor generally carries out the assessment and makes necessary recommendations to help the employee work better. This assessment takes no more than 30 minutes, and blends seamlessly and is a great addition to your remote working policy.

These assessments can be done individually for the company as a whole. Click here to know more.

What are some quick ergonomic checks I can do while setting up my home office?

  • MONITOR: Place your desktop monitor in the centre and sit an arm’s length away. The top of your screen should be level with your eyes. Beware of the glare coming from windows that can cause you to squint. Take frequent eye breaks to look at an object 20 metres away for 20 seconds. 
  • KEYBOARD: Relax your forearms and shoulders while typing. Your elbows should be at an open angle of about 100 degrees. Keep your wrists in a relaxed, neutral position. Use an ergonomic keyboard if you have a desk job. 
  • MOUSE: Place your mouse close to your keyboard and hold it loosely. If you have wrist pain, go for an ergonomic mouse that reduces pressure on the wrist and fingers. Don’t forget to get a good mousepad for more accurate mousing, wrist rest or wrist guard to relieve stress while typing and, of course, a laptop stand
  • OFFICE DESK: If your height is anywhere between 5’8” and 5’10”, the ideal height of a desk would be anything between 28 to 30 inches. However, if you are shorter or taller than that height range, you may want to go for a height-adjustable desk. These desks can go as low as 22 inches and as high as 49 inches, providing comfort to most employees. 
  • OFFICE CHAIR: Choose an office chair that has seat adjustment and lumbar support. Lumbar support in an office chair is built to be pushed against the small of the back. This support fills in the gap between our back, consequently keeping the spine in correct alignment. Also, consider getting yourself a chair with armrests so that your arms can rest comfortably without tightening your shoulders. We have compiled an Office Chair FAQ and posture guide, so make sure to check it out. 

How can Codex help you?

Our partners, Spectrum Optimise, are Ireland’s leading ergonomics experts with a team of physiotherapists and experts that will assess your workplace for you and give you some solid advice on how to work comfortably and get your office ergonomics right. Here are some of the services we offer in partnership with Spectrum Optimise:

  • Workstation Questionnaire and eLearning Tools
  • Video Assessments for Home Office Based Employees
  • On-site Assessments for Office-Based Employees
  • Webinars
  • Speciality Assessments

Learn more here.

You can also call us on +353 (0)1 882 2022, email us at [email protected] or simply leave a message here.