Injuries Related to Ergonomics: Maintain Office Health Through Prevention
Injuries related to ergonomics are commonplace yet highly preventable. The main goal of ergonomics in the workplace should be to keep employees comfortable, efficient, and healthy. Good ergonomics doesn’t just mean happier employees; it can save a business from extra expenses.
The socioeconomic burden of ergonomic issues impacts the employer, as well as the employee. These issues can manifest in performance, health, productivity, medical costs, and compensation claims. In this article, we’ll review all the common ergonomic injuries, particularly those prevalent in office settings.
Statistics on injuries related to ergonomics
How many people are affected by poor ergonomics in the workplace? According to the Health and Safety Executive, 470,000 workers in the UK had work-related musculoskeletal disorders as of 2021. About 76,000 (16%) involve the lower limbs, 212,000 (45%) involve the upper limbs or neck, and 182,000 (39%) involve the back.1
While many factors can lead to workplace injury, including workplace hazards, one of the main issues causing musculoskeletal disorders is the repetitive strain placed on the body from bad posture, working in awkward positions, poor support, repetitive movements, and lack of active movement.
What are the 3 most common risk factors that cause ergonomic injuries?
- Posture: In a neutral posture, the joints can absorb force more easily. Awkward and extreme postures increase injury risk factors, as they may stress joints and reduce blood flow.
- Force: Gripping, pushing, pulling, and lifting objects place additional force on the body’s joints. Increasing these forces requires extra muscle exertion. It also puts greater pressure loads on joints and connective tissues. This can cause fatigue and contribute to musculoskeletal disorders if rest and recovery aren’t adequately achieved.
- Frequency: Higher frequency of awkward postures and forces increases the potential for damage to a joint.
While anyone can sustain arm injuries from poor ergonomics, it’s most common for those with highly physical jobs. Repetitive movements like those made by construction workers, mail carriers, or those who work in food processing are particularly detrimental. Upper limb disorders are more prevalent in workers whose tasks involve:
- Prolonged repetitive or forceful work, especially repeated usage of one hand or dominant arm action.
- Uncomfortable or awkward postures.
- Carrying out a task for an extended period without adequate rest breaks.
- Poor organisation of work (including workload, job demands, lack of breaks).
- Individual differences and ergonomic risk factors.
Workers may experience symptoms in their upper limbs such as aches, pains, tenderness, weakness, tingling, numbness, burning, swelling, stiffness, or reduced joint movement. These symptoms may lead to more formal diagnoses if the issue isn’t immediately addressed. These disorders that can affect the upper limbs include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
- Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).
- Tendonitis or tenosynovitis.
- Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
These disorders are more common in tasks requiring repetitive kneeling, squatting, or prolonged standing. Many leg and hip injuries are compounded by previous conditions and risk factors such as:
- Hip and knee osteoarthritis.
- Knee bursitis.
- Knee meniscal lesions and tears.
- Stress fracture.
- Varicose veins of the lower legs.
Spine and back injuries
Proper spine alignment is one of the keys to ergonomic office work. Lumbar back support helps promote good posture by simply filling in the gap between the lumbar spine and the seat, supporting the natural inward curve of the lower back. When this region is misaligned or lacks support, pressure increases on the spine.
Some tasks can cause back pain or compound pre-existing pain:
- Lifting, pushing, pulling, or dragging heavy or bulky loads.
- Repetitive tasks.
- Bending, crouching, twisting, and reaching.
- Unchanged position for prolonged periods.
- Working beyond physical capability.
Workers are particularly vulnerable to increased back pain if they’ve experienced a previous incident. High workloads, tight deadlines, and a lack of environmental control can also have an impact. Never underestimate the psychological power of stress in creating or compounding physical pain.
While ergonomic injuries relating to the hip are relatively uncommon, hip injuries can be exacerbated by sitting for long periods.
To prevent and relieve hip injuries in the work environment, try angling the seat cushion downward slightly to open up the hip. If angling the seat forward is ineffective or counterproductive, consider leaning the backrest back just a little more than usual. This will also open up the hip joint while reducing the temptation to lean forward. Make sure your feet are flat on the ground and comfortably supported. Whenever you can, try switching between sitting and standing while working.
Office workers experience more neck pain than members of any other profession. The annual prevalence of those reporting neck pain ranges from 42-63%.2 But why do office workers experience a higher risk? The distance and height of the computer monitor, chair, and desk directly impact neck pain.
- The chair affects the pressure distribution and the curvature of the spine. This can increase pressure through the vertebral bodies, compensation, muscle fatigue, and asymmetry.
- If the monitor is too far from the eyes, the individual must extend their neck forwards or slouch to see better.
- Lack of arm support provides excess pressure on the neck leading to muscle strain and fatigue.
- The sustained position of the neck also strains the muscles.
- The gaze angle also affects the neck, whether extended or flexed.
The eyes are one of the most critical assets of office workers. When they’re compromised, the resulting problems can be expensive and painful to address.
Eye discomfort symptoms may be caused by:
- Poor lighting.
- Glare on a computer or tablet screen.
- Poor quality computer or tablet screen (e.g., poor resolution, blurry image, etc.).
- Improper viewing distances.
- Poor seating posture.
- Dry air.
To avoid these injuries, it’s imperative to take breaks. Most eye doctors recommend that every 20 minutes, workers spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away.3
Beware of standing for too long
Because so many problems relate to poor workstations, it might seem that the most straightforward alternative is a standing desk. While it’s true that standing while working can burn more calories and relieve some problems associated with sitting, standing all day at work can cause musculoskeletal issues too.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety reported that working while standing regularly can cause many health problems.4 These include sore feet, leg swelling, varicose veins, muscular fatigue, lower back pain, and stiff neck and shoulders.
Prolonged standing can reduce the blood supply to the muscles, causing fatigue. It can also cause pain in the muscles, as well as the pooling of blood in the legs and feet.
The bottom line: Working positions must be ergonomic but also dynamic. A convertible height-adjustable desk paired with proper use of an ergonomic chair or stool is the best option for promoting worker wellness.
Workstation design helps to keep an employee’s body well-aligned and supported. Here is the optimal way to design a workstation for someone who is primarily working from a desk to prevent ergonomic injury:
- Feet must be flat and well-supported with sufficient leg space.
- Knees bent at 90 degrees and thighs parallel to the ground.
- Lumbar support must be present to maintain the natural curvature of the spine.
- Elbows must be supported by armrests or the desk.
- The computer or monitor is positioned at eye-level or slightly lower and about an arm’s length away.
An ergonomic office chair paired with an adjustable sit-stand desk is the ideal way to prevent injuries related to ergonomics in the workplace. Fortunately, Sedus is one of the leading brands in stylish, dynamic, ergonomic furniture. Contact them today to find out how to solve ergonomic problems in your workplace to optimize worker health and satisfaction.
1 Work-related musculoskeletal disorders statistics in Great Britain, 2021
2 Office Ergonomics and Neck Pain
4 Evidence of Health Risks Associated with Prolonged Standing at Work and Intervention Effectiveness