Humans are not made for immobility. Even if you take a healthy joint and put it in a cast for even a few days, when you remove this the movement of the joint will be decreased, pain will appear, and muscles that surround the joint will have started to atrophy. So, how does this translate to jobs that require us to sit all day, being immobile at a computer, in a car, or at a desk?
In the world of rehabilitation we find that insurers assume that “sedentary jobs” are “easy” on people because of the low physical demands required of these positions. While sometimes this can be true, research is starting to highlight that “sedentary” is still not “healthy”. In fact, while it may seem harmless to complete your job duties in a sitting position for 8 hours or more per day, this can actually set the stage for injuries to develop slowly over time. Some of the most common work related factors that lead to the development of injuries include fixed and constrained postures that are awkward and maintained for too long, repetitive movements, and a high pace of work.
So what can be done? One of the most effective way to address injuries in the workplace is to employ workplace ergonomics. While a popular buzzword in the fields of health and safety, it begs the question, what really is ergonomics?
The term ergonomics is derived from the Greek word ergos, meaning “work” and nomos, meaning “laws”- hence the Laws for Work. The idea behind ergonomics is that each worker brings a unique set of skills, patterns of performing the job, and individual factors to the workplace. Many times offices and work environments are designed with space, budgets and esthetics in mind, but less so for the people who will actually be using the work setting to be productive. This often leads to injury, higher employment costs, and inefficiency.
Ergonomics addresses well-being and performance in relation to one’s job, equipment, tools and environment, with an overall goal to improve health, safety and efficiency of the worker and workplace.
The principles of ergonomics help address a variety of work-related issues. Common issues include workplace and work process design, work-related stress, disabled and aging workforces, tool and equipment design, architectural design and accessibility. The great thing about ergonomic intervention is that it can be applied proactively, preventing problems before they occur, or reactively, adjusting the worker-job-context “fit” when problems do occur. Employing ergonomics involves finding a way to match individual employees’ strengths and limitations with the context of activity demands to improve both worker safety and workplace productivity.
Occupational therapist’s holistic vision and training in finding “fit” between people, environments and “occupations” makes us optimal professionals to assess and treat ergonomic issues. An occupational therapist can help minimize risk and maximize worker safety, productivity and efficiency.
Stay tuned to our Workplace Wednesday blog series for some great tips and strategies to address common workplace complaints using principles of ergonomics and our unique viewpoint on occupation.
Haruko Ha, D., Page, J.J., Wietlisbach, C.M. (2013) Work Evaluations and Work Programs, in Pedretti’s Occupational Therapy Practice Skills for Physical Dysfunction
Canada’s National Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/office/risk_factors.html