Workplace Ergonomics

In today’s hectic lifestyle, occupation or work related ill healths are on the increase. Physical and mental strain contributes to relative stress, which affect the physical or mental state of the individual. Ergonomic designing of the workplaces, helps to avoid, if not reduce stress factors. The design and arrangement of desks, chairs, computers, and other work associated items according to the age, body weight, height and age of the user, would not only help the user, but also improve work effectiveness.

Other factors like appearance, spaciousness and lighting also contribute to the effectiveness of the workplace and health of the worker. With greater awareness of the ergonomic factors, equipments are increasingly designed to fit ergonomically. The need to have safe and ergonomically compatible workplaces is also emphasized by laws. Workplace Ergonomics 3 Ergonomics is the study of man and his relationship with his physical working environment. It is derived from the Greek terms ‘Ergon’ and ‘Nomos’ which mean ‘work’ and ‘usage conditions’ respectively.

Ergonomics is thus basically the study relating people with their work environment. Ergonomics helps us to understand the dangers to our health due to improper work conditions. According to the Italian physician and philosopher Bernardino Ramazinni who is regarded as the father of occupational medicine and hygiene, the natural structure of the body is affected by certain irregular motions and unnatural postures of the body. As a result, the natural structure of the body gets damaged that it gives way to slow development of serious diseases.

When the working environment is made to suit our abilities and overcome our difficulties, then it contributes to our good health.

Studies conducted in the past few decades on the lifestyle of people indicate that the buildings and environment they live, work or study, affects their productivity, satisfaction and learning levels. The relationship between the physical environment and office work effectiveness have also been studied to determine the role of lighting, partitions and color. Such findings are being applied to improve the modern office environment.

The physical work environment has an immense effect on employees and work groups. The effect of the design, lighting and aesthetics in an organization has been well recognized in almost all organizational behavior studies. These factors affect the work environment, employees’ attitude, task performance and job satisfaction. The Workplace Ergonomics 4 effectiveness of organizations in terms of productivity, satisfaction and organizational functioning, depend to a good extent on the environmental features. When work environments are set based on ergonomic requirements, anthropometry data is very helpful.

Anthropometry is the study of correlating people’s body sizes with their capabilities. The size of different parts of the body are measured and compared to the environment it would function. Anthropometry is used in ergonomics in defining the physical structure of the things we use like the clothing sizes, car interior dimensions, helmet sizes, furniture dimensions, work space amount and layout etc. Appropriate use of such anthropometrical data ensures whether a particular task suits the selected individual or not.

It also helps in preventing mismatch of equipment and product properties to the corresponding users, emphasizing on the need to design for variability in people. Anthropometrical data may be classified on structural data, functional data and Newtonian data. The structural data relates to the measurement of body dimensions in fixed positions. The functional data describes the movement of a body part with respect to a reference point while the Newtonian data is used in mechanical analysis of loads on the human body. These anthropometrical data must be analyzed carefully and implemented based on actual requirements.

The anthropometrical parameters that are relevant for a particular design must be identified. The dimensions of the intended design must be compatible with the actual anthropometrical measures. It should also be determined if a single design would fit all or adjustments are to made to accommodate all. Workplace Ergonomics 5 Ergonomics helps in the development of suitable working conditions, which do not pose ill effects on worker’s health. It also helps in developing appropriate work environment, which fits our characteristics, capability and desires. This in turn would promote social health and well-being.

The Ergonomics of a workplace need to be looked into when workers begin complaining of pain and discomfort or even get sick. For example, if the light and fan switches are behind your desk and you have to stretch your arms and shoulder each time to switch it on and off, then you are likely to develop shoulder and back pains. When tasks are carried out repetitively for long periods of time, the strained parts of the body begins to feel discomfort (Safe Computing, 2005). The strain can be reduced when sufficient resting period is provided between repetitions.

Sometimes ineffective environment may also lead to decline in worker’s morale and performance. Ergonomically designed environment and procedures can be formed for every role, in any industry. To provide a compatible work environment, all work aspects must be looked into carefully, and appropriate standards need to be set. For instance, if a weight-handling job is to be analyzed, it should be determined as to how much weight can be lifted and for how long; how many times the weight can be lifted and for what duration. Rest breaks must be included in the work schedule and the presence of health hazards must also be determined.

The selection and arrangement of furniture is very important and care should be taken to ensure its suitability with the surroundings. The corporate culture is communicated in several ways through the design of the work place. The features of any Workplace Ergonomics 6 office plan to be implemented should be user-tested, both individually and collectively. The feasibility of any proposed system should be ensured by testing and evaluation. It would always be better to ascertain workers’ preferences and convenience, before putting in place a plan, arbitrarily for the entire work area.

In case a plan has to be altered for some reason, the suitability of the new plan should be considered with its users. When the appropriate standards are not set or set improperly, the work environment or the work area, begins to affect the worker through each of these inappropriate factors leading to a cumulative trauma disorder or CTD. The cumulative trauma disorder is the combined effect of all improper work environments on an individual. Generally the health effects due to improper work environment may be more felt in wrist, shoulder, neck, back, knees and hip regions.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, torn rotator cuff, cervical strain, lumber strain and arthritis are some of the most common diseases associated with works. Cumulative trauma mainly arises due to excessive repetitive motions, over exposure, improper posture of joints or inappropriate forces during motion. It may also set in due to improper design of tools and workstation or even result from lack of training. The onset of trauma disorder on an individual is based on several factors like age, gender, systematic disease, heredity, prior injury, weight and the body mass index (BMI).

The BMI is based on the relationship of body weight to height. Underweight, normal, overweight and obese people are classified based on their BMI. It is difficult for the underweight and overweight people to perform an identical work under similar conditions, with the same level of ease or strain. Workplace Ergonomics 7 The comfort of the actual workers are to be given priority when designing the office, such that the physical environment suits the nature of the work intended to be done. Work desks, chairs, computers must be arranged such that there is no strain in accessing and working with these.

Ergonomically designed furniture and keyboards, are user friendly and adapted to the requirements of our body and physical abilities. However, there are several other factors that need to be suitable, apart from our desks and chairs. The suitability of the physical environment is very important to job performance (DeMarco, 1985). The location of facilities is very crucial form employee performance. The restroom and break room should be located such that it allows workers to return to the desks in a timelier manner.

When the workplace needs to accommodate older people, these should be designed such that it is user friendly to them in all aspects. Their workspaces should be positioned at appropriate suitable heights with window access, close proximity to conference rooms, reference materials, supplies and coworkers. By substantially increasing the ventilation rates in the office, employee morale and productivity can be boosted. Offices having plants benefit from clean air, besides providing greater appeal and comfort.

Access to nature removes stress, anxiety while improving psychological function (Larsen et al, 1998). Light is very important to our regular every day activities in the sense it allows us to see things and perform activities. Lighting affects human beings psychologically and physiologically and is therefore a crucial element of the work environment. Earlier the need and arrangement of lighting was restricted to the visibility Workplace Ergonomics 8 factor. Subsequent researches showed that lighting directly impacts performance, as the human being is sensitive to certain qualities of light.

It has been found that the quality factors of light like color, temperature and the spectrum of light, are also important as its intensity. Lighting fixtures have begun to become more complicated and have also been designed to incorporate physiological effects and social tastes. Most buildings are lit by a combination of daylight through windows and electric lights. Sunlight has electromagnetic radiation corresponding to a wavelength range that can be absorbed by the eye. Sunlight has a balanced spectrum of colors with elements having wavelengths corresponding to entire visible range.

The artificial electric lights on the other hand have only those elements with wavelengths that are concentrated in certain areas of the visible light spectrum. However it has been found that sunlight does not have any significant advantage in carrying out visual work (Boyce, 2003), although it has health benefits. While working in small areas such as a cubicle, a sense of spaciousness is very crucial. Often small bits of paper clippings, photos or sticky notes are attached all over the cubicle walls, making an apparent space crunch.

These can be replaced by medium sized or larger photos or wall hangings, which create warmth while allowing spacious look. Making an artificial window within the cubicle using Plexiglas and Mylar film, backed by halogen lighting can also make the spaces warmer. Companies previously held the view that safety and efficiency in work were divided at some particular point. However, now it has become apparent that a safe environment too can provide higher productivity and efficiency. U. S laws emphasizing on safe work Workplace Ergonomics 9

environment, have generated greater interest in ergonomics (Usernomics, 1995). Today most of the things used by us in our daily routine have been ergonomically designed like ergonomic chairs, ergonomic desk, ergonomic keyboard, ergonomic lighting, ergonomic phone, etc. Whatever be the design of the products used by us, we as individuals need to think and analyze our movements to ensure it is normal and free from injury risks.


Usernomics (1995), Efficacy of Ergonomics [Electronic Version] Downloaded electronically on 2nd May, 2008 from http://www. usernomics. com/ergonomics. htmlSafe Computing (2005) Office Ergonomics [Electronic Version] Downloaded electronically on 2nd May, 2008 from http://www. safecomputingtips. com/articles/ergonomic-products. html DeMarco T and Lister T. , (1985) Programmer performance and the effects of the work place. IEEE Proceedings, 8th International Conference on Software Engineering.

London, UK Larsen et al. , (1998) Plants in the Workplace: The effect of plant density on productivity, attitudes and perceptions. Environment and Behavior 30(3): 261-281 Boyce et al. , (2003) The benefits of daylight through windows, Troy, NY: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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