As an ergonomics consultant, I’m often asked by clients, “How can I become more ergonomic in the office?” Working in this field, I see all of the misuses of the word “ergonomic.” Most of the time, it will show its head on an advertisement for a product that they consider “ergonomic.” What exactly does this mean?
To me, the term ergonomics means fitting a task with a worker. So, going back to the original question, “How can I become more ergonomic in the office?” The first step to becoming more ergonomic in the office is to IDENTIFY YOUR BEHAVIORS! Try to notice your postures throughout the day. If you are feeling pain or discomfort, what are you doing to cause those issues? There is ALWAYS a root cause. If your neck is hurting you, where are you looking most often? Does your monitor or paper document require you to turn your neck or do you have to look down at your laptop? Maybe you notice low back pain occurring every day. Do you have to reach to type or mouse? Is your screen too far away from your eyes causing you to lean forward to read the text on it?
As humans, we are very good at developing bad habits. Unfortunately for all of us, the more we practice these bad habits, the better we are at executing them. A majority of the injuries I see are not caused by repetitive tasks, but rather bad habits. Do you cross your legs when you sit? Do you keep possessions such as a wallet in your back pocket while you’re sitting? Habits such as these can affect the positioning of the spine which compromises its resilience. Once you’ve identified your behaviors, the second step to becoming more ergonomic in the office is to IDENTIFY YOUR LIMITATIONS!
Let’s go back to the neck pain example. Maybe you’ve identified that your neck is hurting because you’re staring downward at your laptop screen all day. The limitation here is that the screen is set at a fixed height which happens to be too low for your viewing angle to maintain a neutral neck position. This is the bread and butter of ergonomics. By setting your laptop onto a stand (or even a few books) and connecting an external keyboard and mouse (because your laptop keyboard will now be too high), you’ve now solved the behavior and limitation by incorporating a solution that FITS YOU TO THE TASK. Even better, it doesn’t always take an expensive “ergonomic product” to solve the problem.
To recap, ergonomics is no more difficult than identifying your behaviors, identifying your limitations, then coming up with a solution.