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Interview with an ergonomics expert on Back Health Day

On March 15, we celebrate Back Health Day, an opportunity to highlight the importance of a strong and healthy spine.

Ergonomics experts, such as Michael Kläsener from Sedus, emphasise that the correct sitting posture, movement and preventative measures in the workplace are crucial. In an increasingly digital world, where working from home is gaining prominence, promoting back health is becoming even more important.

Mann sitzt zurückgelehnt auf Bürostuhl im Office
The ergonomic and fully adjustable se:air swivel chair

In this interview with our resident ergonomics expert, we take a look together at the steps we need to take to strengthen our backs and raise awareness of ergonomic lifestyles.

Michael, briefly describe your job at Sedus:

It’s a wonderful job because the work directly affects people. At a time when there is talk of numerous stresses and strains, an expanded concept of ergonomics can make a very positive contribution.

The general importance of ergonomics

Why is ergonomics particularly important for back health?

There are simply too many people with back problems and their quality of life is significantly impaired.

To what extent can good ergonomics help to prevent back problems?

Problems can be avoided with very simple means and methods, both in the short and long term. A healthy diet, an adequate amount of sleep and lots of short periods of exercise throughout the day are the basics. Furthermore, an individually adapted workplace is of course part of this.

Mann steht am Schreibtisch und Arbeitet
An ergonomic worksetting using a height-adjustable desk

Workplace and back health

What influence does the workplace have on employees’ back health?

Two aspects have a detrimental effect on health: Workstations and work equipment are often not suitably aligned. Especially in the so-called home office. Added to this is a lack of exercise on an almost epidemic scale. Children are always on the move; however, many young people and adults unfortunately tend to be very sluggish. All of this has a variety of effects on our metabolism and our health.

What ergonomic measures can be taken at the workplace to prevent back problems?

There is a wealth of information available, for example on the German DGUV website or on the Sedus blog “WHAT’S UP?”. The tips there provide extremely useful information, some of which even have some legal advice – interesting for anyone who is specifically interested in their working conditions. 

Sitting posture and back pain

How does sitting posture affect the strain on the spine and what impact does this have on back health?

The spine feels particularly good when the natural double-S shape is maintained – as in an upright standing posture. Of course, you can slouch temporarily, but it is better not to do so for long periods of time. Sitting with a hunched back or slouching on the sofa can cause edge strain on the intervertebral discs, which leads to fatigue in the long term. The muscles can also be overstretched, for example through constant tension. Muscles are built for alternating tension and relief – which leads us back to movement. Static strain leads to tension. If, for example, the armrests have not been used and the arms have been held above the keyboard with muscle power all day long, the typical tense shoulder girdle can easily occur. However, if the forearms are resting on the armrest or table surface, the shoulders are significantly relieved. 

What recommendations do you have regarding the optimal sitting position at work?

Simply put: get rid of what is straining or hindering you! It helps to take a critical look from time to time: how does it look for me? Is the light disturbing me? Or the noise? In today’s “open spaces”, i.e. shared large rooms, light and room climate can usually not be individually adjusted. At home, however, they can. Similarly, there are often people in open spaces who are plagued by noise and cannot simply move to a cube. The same applies to visibility and the desired or required privacy. An optimal seating position always includes subjective aspects. Some people like to work in a particularly open seat angle and activate the seat tilt for this. Or a more reclined posture is preferred; this is not bad at all, as the weight of the torso goes into the backrest and the intervertebral discs are significantly relieved. In this case, however, the desk height and monitor position may be significantly different from those for a more upright posture. To sum up: sit relaxed, change your posture often, stand up and walk. All of this promotes variety and invigorates the working day.

Sedus Bürostuhl in Nahaufnahme
The ergonomic black dot swivel chair means the user stays mobile and always in balance

Which Sedus products are particularly recommended for promoting back health?

Many Sedus products carry the AGR seal of approval, i.e. a non-profit assessment for a positive contribution to back health. The criteria for this are public and sometimes difficult to fulfil. Nobody needs to worry, because almost all professionally offered products have the GS mark – this means that legally guaranteed requirements are met, although they do require careful adjustment for individual use. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked and has the consequences described above.

Preventive measures

What preventive measures can companies take to support the back health of their employees?

Regular training for everyone helps, especially when it comes to VDU work. Particularly when new colleagues join the team and the old ones may have fallen back into back-unfriendly habits – encouraging physiologically correct behaviour without moralising is always beneficial. 

How important is it to make employees aware of ergonomic principles?

If it can be made clear that the focus is always on one’s own individual health and well-being in the short, medium and long term, inactivity and lethargy can be overcome.

Home office and back health

With the increase in home office workplaces – What specific challenges and solutions do you see for back health in the home environment?

Depending on the family situation, sources of disruption may disappear and others may be added. Research has shown that people tend to work longer hours at home than in the office. This can be a cause for concern if it goes beyond the permitted working hours. On the other hand, it is easier to take breaks as needed and to maintain moments of exercise. No one is watching, which naturally takes the pressure off. 

Are there any special recommendations for the ergonomic design of home office workstations?

The answer is clear: basically the same as for workstations in the company office – because the people are still the same. With identical physical needs. In terms of design, there may be completely different requirements, and the available space may be larger or smaller.

A height-adjustable desk and swivel chair in the home office

Promoting health in the company.

How can companies promote a culture of back health?

There are very successful programmes, but they are embedded in a considerate communication culture within the company. Viewed in isolation, tips rarely fall on fertile ground. But if the interaction is respectful and appreciative, then health promotion is usually part of the company’s DNA.

What initiatives or programmes can be implemented to motivate employees to look after their back health?

Numerous offers from BGM teams or external training courses offer help to overcome the “inner pig dog”. But regular walks are also effective; as everyday companions, dogs leave no questions unanswered. They demand exercise, whatever the weather. That’s good, even for the other end of the lead.

Future trends in ergonomics and back health

What developments do you expect to see in ergonomics and back health in the future?

Considering the number of days of absence, the number of sick days and their duration, bonus programmes can be quite successful. I myself experienced several non-smoking campaigns at Sedus on a reward basis for those who quit. And, of course, all non-smokers received the same bonus. Otherwise, it’s a matter of creating awareness; new technologies or groundbreaking innovations are often not even necessary.

Are there any new technologies or approaches that are particularly promising for back health?

Numerous health guides enrich our lives. Without wanting to add another one: if you look after yourself and make sure your everyday life is rich in movement, you have a good chance of avoiding impairments.

With thanks to Michael Kläsener for this interview for Back Health Day 2024.

Here are some other Sedus posts about wellbeing in the workplace:

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