What you need to know:
- As much as 60-75% of workplace injuries are repetitive strain injuries
- Fit your office furniture to yourself, not the other way around
- Give your body time to adapt to the adjustments you make
Is work giving you a literal pain in the neck? You’re not alone. Statistics show repetitive strain injuries (RSI) account for as much as 60-75% of workplace injuries. More than 1.8 million people suffer from some sort of RSI every year, and six out of 10 office workers suffer from wrist pain.
But not Jonathan Woolson. That could be because he takes ergonomics to another level. He’s primarily worked in office environments, doing computer-based work for more than 25 years. At 6’6” tall, Woolson found early in his career that “standard-sized” office furniture wouldn’t fit his body and was taking its toll on his energy and productivity.
“I’d get back pain from sitting too long. The desk height was fixed, the chair was never quite the right height, and I started getting pain in my forearms,” Woolson says.
He started to experiment with ergonomics, and what came out of necessity has now turned into a lifelong passion. “For nearly three decades, I’ve sought to improve and refine the ergonomics of my office workspace to add more variability of limb positions throughout the day,” Woolson says.
What is ergonomics?
According to Merriam-Webster, ergonomics is the applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact more efficiently and safely.
In practice, that means setting up your workspace so you are comfortable and maximizing good positions to feel better, avoid injury and improve your efficiency and performance.
10 Principles of Ergonomics:
- Work in neutral postures
- Reduce excessive force
- Keep everything in reach
- Work at proper height
- Reduce excessive motions
- Minimize fatigue and static load
- Minimize pressure points
- Provide clearance
- Move, exercise and stretch
- Maintain a comfortable environment.
Carol Schmeidler is a certified safety professional, working as the Safety and Industrial Hygiene Programs Manager in UB’s Environment, Health and Safety Department. She does ergonomics assessments across campus to ensure employees in a variety of settings are working safely.
“It is something where you can really make an impact and really help people,” Schmeidler says.
Whether you’re working in an office or from home, there are some easy ways to improve your ergonomics and efficiency. If you work from home, it is important to have a dedicated workspace you leave when you log out (in other words, not the kitchen table).
Schmeidler’s biggest piece of advice: “Adjust your furniture properly to fit you and don’t make your body do things to fit your furniture that are going to hurt you.”
Tips to Improve Ergonomics:
- Adjust furniture to keep hips, knees and elbows at 90-degree angles or more
- Reduce glare
- Change your posture for one minute every 30 minutes.
- Allow yourself to fidget
- Keep computer monitors close to eye level
- Research ergonomics furniture, keyboards and mouses before you buy them
One thing to watch out for, which I realize I am guilty of doing often, is putting your feet on your chair, which Schmeidler says puts a lot of strain on your knees. She also recommends avoiding sitting on an exercise ball.
“Most people don’t have the kind of balance or strength it takes to use. There’s no support for your arms. There’s no support for your back, and that is very fatiguing,” Schmeidler says.
Variable height desks can be beneficial, but Schmeidler says it is important to do your homework to get the right desk and ease into spending more time on your feet.
“We found that people don’t use standing desks one month after getting them, and that could be that they try to jump into standing all the time or because they didn’t get the right thing,” Schmeidler says.
Woolson adds, “You should slightly vary the height up and down throughout the day, so your muscles are not always at a static position.” He’s been using a sit-to-stand desk for 15 years and says, “That has made the single largest difference in being able to combat those first fringes of a stress injury.”
It’s important to note that while a small adjustment can go a long way, you may not feel the results immediately.
“When I would make adjustments to a position at my desk and the tingle would go away after two months, I would take that as a success. It isn’t instant. It’s a slow change of how your muscles and nerves respond to a change over time” Woolson says.
For him, the process is never done. He’s already considering what he might add next to his ergonomic setup.