Ergonomics Essentials Part 1: An Introduction to Ergonomics

For many people, being employed often involves sitting at a desk, working on a computer or doing other office-related tasks. The Australian Bureau of Statistics maintains that the average full-time employee will put in about 33 hours of work per week. This equates to over 1600 hours, and for most people this involves being in an office for almost all of these hours. Business owners and managers should understand that comfort should be a priority during this time, which is why many businesses are looking towards ergonomic office furniture.

What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics involves matching equipment to the user and the task to the worker. Ergonomic furniture is designed in such a way that it will fit the body of the worker, and is meant to provide a more comfortable, safer, and more efficient office environment.
A fundamental issues in ergonomics is human size. Humans come in a range of sizes. And it is not just about being tall or short, or thin or wide, there are those that have small hands, or others who have a long reach etc.
The primary benefit that is seen when businesses opt for ergonomic office furniture is the reduction of stress on the body. When sitting at a desk, we tend to hold our bodies in an awkward position which puts stress on the musculoskeletal system. Non-ergonomic, commercial office chairs can cause fatigue, pain and discomfort. This is more than simply being uncomfortable, and can cause musculoskeletal issues such as sciatica and other back conditions. Ergonomic office furniture can help keep the human body in a proper position and reduce the possibility of an injury that develops over time.
Other risks for an office worker can include:

  • Poor posture: in the hands, arms, neck, shoulders and spine can lead to back pain, circulation problems and headaches
  • Glare and lighting: can cause eye strain and headaches
  • Duration and variety of tasks: can eventuate to occupational overuse syndrome, musculoskeletal injury, and psychosocial risks; and
  • Working environment factors: such as noise, air quality, and temperature.

What is ergonomic office furniture?
Ergonomic office furniture can include:

  • An adjustable and supportive chair
  • An adjustable desk or workstation or a fixed height desk or workstation with the availability of a height adjustable footrest
  • Appropriate and well-maintained equipment
  • Office furniture with sufficient work space to carry out employee tasks’
  • Office furniture with sufficient area for employees to enter and move about their work area easily and allow frequent changes in posture
  • Storage for personal items and work requirements
  • An environment that is at a satisfactory temperature for the work, is appropriately lit, and has good air quality.

​Ergonomic relationships
The relationship between work surfaces, seat pan, and floor is important to optimal ergonomics. To accommodate a range of people performing a range of tasks, the seat pan (as well as one of the other two surfaces) has to be adjustable in height.
If desk surfaces are fixed in height then it needs to be high enough to accommodate employees with longer legs. For shorter employees the chair needs to be able to be adjusted sufficiently high enough to their arms can be appropriately positioned. Footrests are also recommended for employees who cannot place their feet flat on the floor when the chair is adjusted.
The following diagram from Ergonomic Office details ideal ergonomic positioning: 

Do I (the employer) have a duty of care to my employees?
Employers in Australia have a general duty of care to their employees to provide a safe and healthy working environment. In the office work environment the general duty of care can include:

  • Appropriate equipment and environment
  • Reasonable time allocation for tasks
  • Ensuring employees know how to use and adjust the equipment, such as including instruction and/ or training
  • Supervision to ensure the equipment is being used properly
  • Ensuring the system of work is appropriate not detrimental to an employee’s health, safety, and welfare.

The National Health and Safety Commission has developed the ‘Ergonomic Principles and Checklists for the Selection of Office Furniture and Equipment’ (you can access the checklist here). 

How can ergonomic office furniture help you?
Important to a business owner, ergonomic office furniture can save money by increasing productivity and the sustainability of their employees. Consider Ultra Tool and Plastics, a plastic product manufacturer in New York who implemented an ergonomics program that cut back injuries by 70% and reduced associated lost workdays by 80%. Part of their breakthrough solution was the purchase of ergonomic office chairs (read the full article here). 
Introducing ergonomic concepts into the workplace can also increase employee morale in an office environment. This might be in part, due to decrease in pain and fatigue that is experienced by office workers. It could also be because of the employees feeling that the company is looking after their best interests. When employees feel valued, morale tends to improve. This often improves productivity along with it. Buzz Furniture offers extensive ergonomic office furniture solutions for your business. Please contact us on 03 9537 0737 or to share your ideas with us. 

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