Ergonomics in the Workplace Is Essential for Staying Safe
November 30, 2018
Coworkers eating a healthy lunch together
Health and safety are important in a workplace and in ways that go beyond security. For sedentary office workers, better ergonomics in the workplace can add years of productivity and ensure better quality of life through retirement and beyond. Here's a short list of lurking potential risks and what you can do to take better control of your well-being.
Sitting Too Much
The Mayo Clinic concludes, "Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful. An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking." Solutions range from brief walks or vigorous stretching at reasonable interludes to using ergonomic furniture to elevate the heart rate and get the blood flowing. The Mayo Clinic recommends a standing desk or creating a new habit, such as always standing when conducting phone conversations.
Ill-fitting office furniture and desk arrangements that require unnatural twisting can take a toll. Even when the furniture and arrangements are adequate, bad posture can lead to long term health effects, including muscular skeletal disorders. Employees should insist upon furniture and an office arrangement that supports shoulder alignment with hips — good posture and healthy positioning — over the course of a long working day. Make sure employers understand that health and safety are important in a workplace. Employees who are properly equipped are less likely to experience chronic pain and more likely to be engaged, satisfied in their jobs, less likely to go on medical leave and more productive and energized at work.
Poor Air Quality
Recycled office air is no substitute for the great outdoors. Sick building syndrome has been addressed by the Enviromental Protection Agency and other credible sources as a potential hazard. An Occupational Health & Safety Article cites symptoms that include, "Sniffles; stuffy noses; itchy eyes; sinus infections; scratchy throats; dry, irritated skin; upset stomachs; headaches; difficulty concentrating and fatigue or lethargy. The key factors in diagnosing sick building syndrome are a rapid recovery and the disappearance of symptoms after an affected individual leaves the building."
Medical professionals hypothesize that increased emphasis on insulation and double- or triple-paned windows that can't be opened may meet green standards, but in return create structures that feel air-tight. The best solution is to spend time outside of the building. Find reasons to take your morning coffee or lunch outside. You can also ask employers to ensure that minimum standards are being met for fans, air filters and air quality.
Desk workers are often surrounded by other people. In these environments, hand washing and sanitation are particularly important. Be aware of the various surfaces that you come into contact with, especially in public spaces. Doorknobs, revolving doors, elevators, shared cabinets and break room spaces are all potential risks. Be vigilant about washing your hands regularly and stay up-to-date on flu shots and other inoculations and boosters as recommended by your doctor.
Desk jobs can introduce lots of temptations. It takes discipline to pack a healthy lunch every day, and in any case, hardly a week goes by in a crowded office when someone isn't bringing in sweets. It's natural to want to join in on celebratory festivities around birthdays, work anniversaries, successful product launches or projects, but make sure that these almost-daily temptations do not start to become habits. Have a strategy to avoid situations that you know will include unhealthy foods.
Sometimes, organizations request employee ideas for better health and wellness. Why not use the opportunity to suggest healthier food at parties and in vending machines? It's a great recommendation that will help not just you but your co-workers stay healthy.
The Long Commute
Health and safety are important in a workplace, and a long commute has the potential to exacerbate many of the risks already discussed. The Independent reports, "Longer commutes also appear to have a significant impact on mental well-being, with those commuting longer 33 percent more likely to suffer from depression."
If nothing else, a long drive or ride adds hours to the time you spend sitting. Employees with long commutes should be extra vigilant to ensure that they are getting enough outside air, being smart about ergonomics in the workplace, eating well and getting enough activity to keep them healthy and strong.