Every few months, we hear about a new breakthrough in workplace ergonomics, one meant to protect office workers from the adverse health effects of prolonged computer use or sitting at a desk for too long. Potential problems include repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, increased risk of developing heart disease or Type 2 diabetes, and visual fatigue expressed in the form of headaches or blurry vision.
Adopting equipment designed with ergonomics in mind can prevent and alleviate some of these problems by reducing fatigue and discomfort. But where should your small company focus its attention before making an investment? Are there measures you can take proactively without replacing all of your desks, workstations, and other furniture?
Here are some suggestions for getting started:
1. Address general employee work habits. Encourage workers who sit at desks or computers for long periods of time to take a stretch break or to at least change positions every 30 minutes. They should also be encouraged to give their eyes a rest occasionally by looking away from computer screens to handle other tasks. If you run a restaurant or a retail business, suggest that workers wear shoes with cushioned insoles or custom orthotics to prevent or relieve foot and back pain associated with long periods of standing or walking.
2. Look carefully at how work spaces are organized. Can employees see their computer screens without craning their necks (from an ideal distance of between 18 and 30 inches)? Are keyboards aligned with the displays? Can people type with their arms at a 90-degree angle, using a soft (not rigid) wrist rest for support, if needed? Can they adjust the height of their chair and desktop?
There’s a slightly different set of concerns involved with retail technology, such as cash registers and displays, but the same general filter should apply: You need to make sure that keyboards are at elbow height and that monitors are adjusted for those standing behind them.
If you’re running a restaurant, organize the serving stations so that wait staff doesn’t have to carry heavy trays for long distances. Provide carts to bring plates to and from tables wherever possible and appropriate. Carts are also a good idea for stocking retail shelves. In addition, store owners should look carefully at how items are stored or placed — with heavier ones situated at a reasonable height.
3. Listen for complaints. What works ergonomically for one employee may not work for another. Before you invest in buying stability balls, standing desks, or treadmills for the entire office, discuss the alternatives with your staff and figure out what’s right for each person.
Here are a few other resources you may want to consult as you develop your ergonomics strategy: