Ergonomics intervention doesn’t have to be pricey – Part II

You don’t need an expensive chair, desk, or other accessories for your workstation to be ergonomic.  Here are a few inexpensive ways to make your workstation more ergonomically-friendly in the office:

  • Place a small pillow or rolled up towel at your lower back when sitting.  The pillow should sit right above your belt line to be in the correct place for proper vertebrae alignment.
  • Use large books to raise your monitor to the correct height instead of a monitor riser.  The top of the monitor should be level with the height of your eyes.
  • If your armrests do not lower enough to allow you to pull your chair all the way into your desk, you can remove the armrests from the chair.  Armrests are not necessary and for computer work – it is more important to pull yourself in so that you don’t lean forward in your chair and place strain on your back.
  • Use telephone books or a garbage can turned sideways as a footrest to achieve different positions for your legs during the day.
  • Place a large binder (at least a 2” spine) flat on the desk surface with the spine facing the monitor.  This can serve as a document holder.  By placing hard copies on a tilted surface, neck flexion will be reduced.

And for a warehouse/factory environment:

  • Pad tool handles, levers, and buttons to minimize contact stress on hands and to increase grip handle width if you have larger hands.
  • Use shock-absorbing insoles in your shoes instead of an anti-fatigue mat.  Wear running shoes to work if you can.
  • Use two or more pallets to raise manual material handling work areas to reduce repetitive bending.
  • If you perform precision work (e.g. assembly of very small parts, jewellery repair), you need to have your workstation 2-3” above your elbow height to reduce neck flexion.  Build up your work surface with a few large boards to achieve proper height.

Be creative!  You know your workstation the best.  The design of many ergonomic products originally came from modifications made by workers.  Whatever you can devise to help you, do it – and let others know too.


Ergonomics intervention doesn’t have to be pricey – Part I

It is a common misconception that ergonomic intervention ends up being expensive because of all the equipment you have to buy after you have an assessment.  But ergonomics is definitely not just equipment!  A very large part of ergonomic intervention involves procedural changes, not equipment changes.  For example, many office workers are advised to:

  • Change the layout on their desks (e.g. place the phone close to the computer, keep files used often on the desk surface) to avoid unnecessary reaching and twisting;
  • Lower their armrests so they can pull in close to their desks and avoid back strain, while also avoiding hand and arm discomfort from using arm rests when typing;
  • No longer sit at their desk for more than one hour without a 5-minute break;
  • Avoid overtime hours;
  • Sit with their backs against the backrest to relieve muscle strain.

Workers in a warehouse/factory environment are advised to:

  • Place one foot on a ledge 6-8 inches high to relieve back pressure when standing in one place;
  • Lift boxes properly between the knees and with a straight back;
  • Evaluate the weight and bulkiness of lifting containers – reduce number of items in the containers or use smaller containers;
  • Try Job Rotation – Come up with a plan to change jobs with another worker or several other workers so that muscles get a break doing a different job.  Change on the hour or every two.
  • Try Job Enlargement – For example, when assembling car parts.  Instead of one person putting one screw in and the next person attaching a wire and the next person packing the part in a box, have each person do all three tasks so the job has more varied tasks with less repetition (this also decreases monotony);
  • Take shorter, more frequent breaks to allow muscles to rest and recover.

In Part II of this post, I will highlight inexpensive modifications that can be used in a variety of workplaces to help reduce fatigue and discomfort.