Injured employees cost small businesses dearly. A recent Health & Safety Executive (HSE) report shows that 28.2 million working days are lost due to work-related illness or workplace injury each year. And in the UK alone, there were 0.5 million work-related musculoskeletal disorder cases reported in 2018/219. In total, workplace injuries cost UK businesses a staggering £5.2 billion a year. (Source:https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh1819.pdf)
Add to this the impact that poor workspace design has on motivation and engagement and you really begin to see why ergonomics are so important for performance and productivity. But what exactly do we mean by ergonomics and what can employers do to improve them?
What are ergonomics?
The word ‘Ergonomics’ comes from the Greek words ‘ergon’ meaning work, and ‘nomoi’ meaning natural laws.
According to McCormick and Saunders (1983) “Ergonomics applies information about human behaviour, abilities and limitations and other characteristics to the design of tools, machines, tasks, jobs and environments for productive, safe, comfortable and effective human use”.
Essentially, ergonomics relates to the principles of posture and movement and how our environments, tools, objects and tasks impact on these. Importantly, it recognises that no two people are the same and there is not a one-size- fits all solution. Ergonomics is concerned with each individual person and making sure that tasks, equipment and the environment fit each employee, allowing them to carry out their work to the best of their ability, in a safe, healthy and comfortable manner.
The impact of poor ergonomics
The average person spends 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. If they are spending that time in workspaces that are inadequate and/or not fit for purpose, it is easy to see how there can be problems.
Poor ergonomics can lead to an increase in:
- Potential accidents
- Musculoskeletal injury – complaints of the back, shoulders, wrists, necks etc. increase sickness and time off work
- Work-related stress
- Employee compensation claims
- Staff turnover
Poor ergonomics can lead to a decrease in:
- Health and well-being of employees
- Performance and productivity
Assessing your workplace ergonomics
Employers have a duty of care to their employees. Assessing your workplace ergonomics and rectifying any issues can pay dividends in the long term.
Carry out regular health and safety checks.
The Health and Safety Executive website contains a wealth of information for carrying out health and safety checks. Here is their link to Carry out a workstation assessment
2. Review any accidents or reports of ill health
By regularly reviewing accidents and reports of ill health you can see if there are any recurring issues that might be caused (or prevented) by the workplace design and ergonomics.
3. Talk to employees
Your employees are best placed to identify any issues with the workplace environment and their workstations. Ask them to talk about the day to day tasks that they carry out and if anything could be improved. It’s important not just to consider the immediate workstation but also to consider the wider environment. Ask about noise, temperature and lighting levels. What is storage like? Do they have to reach or twist to access files/equipment? Are there sufficient areas for breaks etc?
Involving employees in these discussions, is more likely to get them bought in to any changes and by seeking their opinions will help them to feel valued and appreciated.
4. Record and look at absence and staff turnover levels
Is there any link between the working environment, staff absence and turnover levels?
Improving your workplace ergonomics
Once you have carried out your workplace assessment, you can set about improving your workplace ergonomics and the working lives for your employees.
Top tips for improving workplace ergonomics
- Talk to employees – involve your employees in solutions. Ask for their ideas to improve the environment and how they work
- Look for simple solutions – sometimes the solutions are obvious and easy to rectify. Maybe it’s clearing boxes from underneath desks, or lowering shelves and improving storage?
- Evaluate changes – make sure you and your employees evaluate any changes. There is no point making changes that create problems elsewhere.
- Seek help from an external professional – ergonomic professionals can assess your workplace environment and make suggestions for improvements.
Can you afford not to invest in ergonomics?
By investing in ergonomics (the science of optimising the work environment to match the worker), you could make substantial cost savings.
Cost savings come from:
- Fewer lost employee workdays
- Lower workers’ compensation costs
- Increased productivity on the job
- Lower medical expenses
- Fewer insurance-related administrative costs.
X2 Furniture can carry out assessments on single or multiple employees to ensure that everything is ergonomically correct and, if not, we can offer professional advice and provide the most effective product solutions to remedy bad posture resulting from poor ergonomic practices.
What have you got to lose?