Workplace Ergonomics and Safety: Stay Well While You Work

ergonomics; workplace health; health and safety
5 min read

Whether sitting at a desk most of your day or doing heavy lifting in a warehouse, ergonomic safety will help you stay healthy while preventing undo pain and injury. 

Musculoskeletal disorders account for nearly 70 million physician office visits in the United States annually, and an estimated 130 million total health care encounters including outpatient, hospital, and emergency room visits. (Centers for Disease Control)

Ergonomics is about designing or fitting a job to a person. The goal is to help lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity and reduce the number and severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Why ergonomic safety is so important for those that sit for long hours on the job:

Unfortunately, sitting rests the parts of the body that don’t need rest while overworking areas that need it. Sitting puts undo strain on the spine while underutilizing the muscles of the legs and core. Without a periodic undoing of sitting, the spine, joints, and muscles all become negatively impacted. To maintain a seated posture for long periods, some muscle groups in the back must continually contract. These muscles quickly become fatigued, and slumping begins to happen since that takes less energy to maintain. The less you rely on your muscles, the weaker and more dysfunctional they become. Sitting for long periods causes the muscles around the hips and backs of legs to tighten and shorten. When you do get up and move, the muscles will cause more stress on the related joints, increasing their susceptibility to pain and injury. This is the reason for the strong connection between prolonged sitting and chronic pain.
Watch for symptoms such as numbness or a ‘pins and needles’ feeling in the wrists or hands, persistent tightness or pain in the back, pain in the back that radiates down the legs, eye strain, or frequent headaches. These are all symptoms that should not be ignored. They could potentially turn into bigger problems and should be addressed with your health care provider.

Importance of ergonomics and postural awareness for jobs that require heavy lifting or repetitive tasks:

Lifting heavy items and performing repetitive tasks for long hours can result in even higher risk for injuries. Lifting heavy items is one of the leading causes of injury in the workplace.  Bending, followed by twisting and turning, are the more commonly cited movements that caused back injuries. Strains and sprains from lifting loads improperly or from carrying loads that are either too large or too heavy are common hazards associated with manually moving materials.
Using smart lifting practices, can protect you from multiple injuries caused by lifting improperly. Protecting yourself with correct training and adherence to training is essential in these types of jobs. Personal lifestyle and health habits will also play an important role.

Strategies that will help you avoid these hazardous effects of sitting, standing or lifting on the job:

  • Take frequent stretch and activity breaks. To undo the affects of sitting, you should be stretching, walking, and moving the body before, after and DURING your workday. Don’t wait until you are off the clock. Take short breaks, preferably every hour to move and stretch the body in opposing positions it is in while sitting. Think blood flowing movements like walking or marching in place, chest opener stretches, and hamstring and low back focus.
  • Stand up as much as possible and practice good posture. Simply standing up more frequently throughout the day can signal the body to use those muscles and systems that sort of ‘go to sleep’ after an hour or two of static sitting position. Stand while you are phone calls. Check in with your body and consciously practice good posture. Use a headset or earbuds to allow for proper alignment while on the phone.
  • Develop a workstation that works for YOU. Keep your workstation as safe as possible. Having an ergonomically correct desk improves your comfort and helps prevent muscle strain. It simply means fitting your workspace to best suit you and putting the right tools in place to ensure comfort and safety. Check with your supervisor or HR department. Whether you are working from home or in office, your company may have an ergonomic benefit or program that can assist you getting the proper set up or tools in place.
  • Give your eyes a break. Try not to stare at your computer screen for extended periods of time. Also, tune in to how much you are looking at other devices and screens outside of work. Set boundaries around your digital consumption so your eyes get the sufficient rest they need.
  • Take care of your hands and wrists if you are typing frequently. Use ergonomic tools and setup that support proper alignment in the hands and wrists. (See diagram above.) Rest your hands in your lap when you are not typing and do frequent stretches and movements for the wrists and forearms to avoid continued tightness and strain. 
  • Practice healthy habits outside of the workplace. Be sure to get sufficient sleep. Strive for 7-9 hours nightly. Eat balanced, healthy meals throughout the day. Maintain good posture and musculoskeletal balance by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • When lifting or standing for long hours, change it up. Repeating the same movement continuously through the day can cause strains and set you up for musculoskeletal disorders. If it is possible alternate repetitive tasks. If job rotation or alternating tasks throughout the shift is unrealistic, be sure to incorporate frequent breaks to stretch do simple exercises to keep your muscles and tendons from becoming tense or strained.
  • Always use proper and safe lifting techniques. If your job involves lifting, be sure you are trained in proper form and follow those techniques. Lift with your legs, using a squat or bend at the knees and don't lift with the muscles in your back.
  • Manage work stress. A stressful work environment can cause you to tense your muscles even more. Allowing undo pressure and strain to complete tasks at the expense of using proper ergonomic methods is dangerous. Be sure that you are not adding stress to the body in this way.
Education is key and supporting employees in taking frequent breaks to stretch, walk or change position can help reduce injuries and pain. Consider a personalized ergonomics employee program. Our team are OSHA certified in office and workplace ergonomics and safety. All of our related services involve education and interactive instruction. These services can be done in person or virtually for remote employees to ensure they are set up correct at their workstations at home.


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