Tag: ergonomics

It’s been called the new cancer and it’s killing us. Sitting hunched forward looking at a screen all day causes a laundry list of health issues, from heart and brain damage to back, hip and neck problems.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that such is the growing awareness of the dangers of sitting, that in addition to ensuring correct ergonomics for desks and chairs, she increasingly works with movement specialists like Monja Boonzaier, who helps employees preserve their health in the office.

Boonzaier (who teaches locally the internationally accepted Feldenkrais Method of body awareness and movement) says that although many people understand how bad all day sitting is, much of the advice on how to combat it “is impractical and wrong.”

“For example, people are advised to sit leaning back. But how can you sit back in chair and work on a computer? A lot of advice is also centred around having a strong core because you need those muscles to hold you upright.

“It’s a good theory but people know from their own experience a strong stomach does not make you sit upright. If you watch someone who has been told to sit or stand straight they cannot maintain this ‘correct’ position without a continuous effort. As soon as their attention shifts to an activity that is interesting they will slump back to their original posture.”

Boonzaier says that dynamic sitting is a powerful solution and is increasingly taught the world over as a way to combat the ill effects of sitting all day.

“We recommend arm and wrist stretches, doing side bends to the left and the right to stretch lower back pains, and also doing glute stretches like lunges or swinging each leg forward and back while standing. You should also regularly roll your feet, rock your pelvis back and forth, shift your weight to the left and right sides of your seat, and press each ear to its nearest shoulder. “

Boonzaier says this only take a few minutes and suggests doing a few of them every hour as it will dramatically reduce joint stiffness and back pain. “Ideally people should also get up from their desks and walk around the office or up and down the stairs every hour too.”

Trim, however, warns that stretching at work doesn’t mean you can skip exercise. “The three best exercises to combat sitting for long spells are squats, lunges and wall sits. The best thing about these exercises that you can do them anywhere, you don’t need a gym.”

Trim adds that ergonomically friendly desks and chairs was also fundamental to good office health. “Amongst other things, this means having an adjustable chair that supports your spine and allows you to sit with feet flat on the floor and thighs parallel to the floor. Desks should have clearance for your knees. Computer monitors should be placed directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard.”

There is another often overlooked aspect to sitting all day – we forget to breathe.
“Bad posture and stress at work often makes us forget to breathe properly. Every hour, take a few moments to take three or four really deep breaths. Breathe in deeply and then out slowly and press the breath out of your lungs. This can be done while stretching.”

Sitting is the new smoking

Recently it was widely reported in the media that all employees at Apple’s new spaceship-style headquarters in Cupertino, California would be getting desks that give them the option of working sitting or standing – a trend that is rapidly catching on in South African offices too.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that rapidly increasing numbers of their clients are asking for new desk installations that can accommodate workers who prefer to mix up the work day by standing and sitting.

“In the past year we have had a nearly 50% rise in demand for desks that give office workers the choice of sitting or standing,” says Andrews.

He adds that the financial services and insurance industries in South Africa in particular have jumped on the trend, with some firms replacing the workstations for every staff member.

“The return in efficiency in having staff that are able to adjust their posture at the push of a button, has more than outweighed the capital expenditure. In our experience height adjustable workstations are a simple way to provide for the well-being of an organisation’s most valuable asset – its people.”

Sitting all day is seen by health professionals the world over as the new smoking. Sitting is killing people slowly by taking a huge physical and mental toll on the mind and body. Often workers sit for eight to ten hours a day which is a dangerous habit.

Research shows that sitting for long periods of time contributes to risk of metabolic syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders, heart attack and stroke risk and overall death risk, among others. Those who sit a great deal also have lower life expectancies and slower metabolism.

Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia, found that sitting for 11 or more hours per day increased risk of death by 40%, regardless of other activity levels.

“People mistakenly think they can shrug off the effects of a long day by hitting the gym after work but you can’t,” Andrews warns.

So how can office workers protect themselves?

1) Ask for a standing desk and set it to the right height. “There really is no need to stand all day. Ideally though, at least every other hour, workers should work standing for an hour,” Andrews advises.

2) Office laps. Talking a walk around the office or even outside if time permits helps combat the strains of sitting. Try and walk at least every hour.

3) Active meetings. “Most meetings are too long anyway. Taking a loop around the block while talking to colleagues will get the circulation going and shorten the meeting.”

4) Desk exercises. Stretching your arms and legs at your desk are a simple way to keep moving even while you’re seating. Arms reaching for the sky and extending legs forwards help improve circulation.

5) Set reminders. Increasingly smart watches can detect if the wearer has been sitting too long and sends an alert to the user to get up and move around. “Alternately a colleague buddy system of reminders is a good way to remind yourself to get up move every hour,” says Andrews.

He adds the typical sit/stand desk look exactly the same as normal desks but come fitted with a lever or button on the side. All workers need to do is simply flip the lever and adjust the desk to a comfortable standing height and the reverse to set it back to sitting desk level.

Think desk workers spending their days in front of a computer aren’t likely to get injured on the job?

Think again.

More than half of all workplace injuries are related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) — injuries that are common among those who engage in repetitive motion activities as typing on a computer keyboard.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, says that even the seemingly ‘safest’ jobs lead to employee injuries and a large cost to the bottom line of business.

“In fact, nearly 60 percent of employees doing office computer work say they have wrist pain.

“Long days hunched over keyboards can lead to cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) and lower back ailments.”

Here are some other common complaints:

  • Muscle fatigue or pain. Working for long periods in the same position or in awkward positions can put stress on hands and wrists and lead to injury.
  • Eye strain. Sitting too close to — or prolonged staring at — a monitor can reduce eye blinking and may lead to dry or aching eyes.
  • Lower back pain. Using laptops or non-adjustable office furniture can cause employees to work at awkward angles and lead to back stress.

Andrews notes that several trends make CTDs a special concern for today’s typical office workers.

“So many employees use computers all day and then also sit down at the computer at home to surf the Internet or even catch up on work.

“Secondly, specialised jobs are on the increase the world over. This means more people are doing the same thing all day. And finally, people are living longer and also working longer which means many more years of wear and tear on the body.”

According to South African workplace research company Know More, only 40% of 10 000 South African workers surveyed feel that their workplace environment supports their wellbeing.

And this doesn’t just exact a physical toll on employees, it can have a significant impact on businesses’ bottom line.

“For example,in 2003 in the US, the average medical claim associated with a CTD was over $43 000. Now it’s over $50 000. And that doesn’t even include the hidden costs for employers of lost productivity when an employee is injured or the cost of hiring and training a replacement worker.”

So what’s a business to do?

“Don’t think that a desk and chair is all that employees need,” Andrews advises.

Ergonomics, or the process of safely and comfortably relating workers to their work- spaces, can help by reducing the likelihood of work related injuries through greater emphasis on a well designed workspace.

“Studies have shown that a well-designed office space can increase efficiency by up to 36%.”

Andrews adds that Inspiration Office has increasingly installed several ‘collaborative spaces’ with furniture like couches and coffee tables.

“These are designed not only for teamwork, but also to encourage people to move around and change their workstations to reduce repetitive actions during the day.”

Moving is particularly important: according to the same Know More survey, only 21% of South African office workers feel that their workplaces offer sufficient areas to allow physical activity.

It needn’t be costly either. “When one considers that in most organisations 80% of the budget is allocated to people in the form of salaries, while only 7% is allocated to space, by leveraging the smallest cost line item better – businesses can obtain a return in efficiency in the biggest cost line item,” says Andrews.

For instance, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests measure such as leaving enough room for range of motion, adjusting desk chairs to individuals, positioning monitors so eye level is at the top of the screen and finding a pointing device, such as a mouse, stylus or tablet, suited to the individual.

There are many other simple things employers can consider to help protect their workers and their pocketbooks. For example:

  • Stress the importance of good posture at the computer;
  • Use smart lifting techniques and tools that can make the job easier;
  • Appoint someone on your staff to take responsibility for safety issues. Have this person understand ergonomics best practices, review resources provided by your workers’ compensation insurance company, train employees, and make changes to workspaces as needed; and
  • Take breaks throughout the work day to walk about.

Major risk factors that add to cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs):

  • Static posture
  • Awkward posture
  • Repetition
  • Force and/or vibration
  • Extreme temperature

Safe behaviours that limit CTDs:

  • Good posture
  • Correct workstation setup
  • Occasional rest breaks
  • Task variation
  • Proper lifting techniques

“Common sense measures can go a long way to preventing these types of injuries, “Andrews adds.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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