23/11/2010

By David McCall, Steelcase, Consultant

Work related “musculo-skeletal disorders” such as back injuries are the most prevalent, most expensive and the most preventable workplace injuries in the country.

Employee absenteeism is costing the economy billions of pounds annually, there are easy preventable ways to minimise this. A better understanding and more knowledge needs to be readily available to the HR industry with regard to ergonomics.

Ergonomics is the study of the relationship between the user, the tools they use (such as the chair), and the task they perform in the environment in which they work. Getting it right means improved employee health, well-being and productivity. Get it wrong and a rapid spiral towards lawsuits may occur, absenteeism will increase and it is less likely that you will be able to attract and retain the best talent.

Steelcase are global leaders in workspace design and office interiors, specialising in the world of work, workplace and workers focusing on ergonomics. Over the last 35 years Steelcase has produced some of the most thorough research in terms of ergonomics and spinal movement leveraging this knowledge to the development of its high performance seating and workstation products.

At Steelcase a study was conducted to establish a link between an ergonomic product and training to employee health and productivity. The results were astounding. 200 employees from a state agency that collects sales taxes in the USA volunteered for one year to participate in the study. To qualify each participant had to spend at least six hours a day sitting in their chair.

The volunteers were divided into three groups:

1. Control group.

2. A group that received ergonomic training.

3. A group that received ergonomic training and the Steelcase Leap Chair.

Steelcase’s Leap chair in conjunction with a user training group showed significant improvements in both health and productivity. Employees reported significantly lower pain and discomfort in their symptom surveys and their Work Environment and health questionnaire. The study results also showed an increase in productivity. After one year, the Leap chair with training achieved a 17.8% increase in productivity. This number reflects the increase in taxes collected per hour worked.

The findings from this study suggest that companies may benefit by improving the seating provided to their office workers along with training on how to use them. Training is key as two thirds of office workers do not adjust their chair.

Ergonomics is more important than people realise, we spend 84% of our working time in the seated position and in excess of 80,000 working hours sitting down. This can have a negative effect on the body and overall health.

One of the largest factors affecting the development of ergonomics is technology and the modern office.

The introduction of computers changed the nature of business and modernised the office but it forced the workforce to adopt a static slumped posture, which has before increased musculo-skeletal disorders, fatigue and stress. As technology has moved forward and become more advanced people are not tied to a desk anymore. The introduction of, I —Phones, I-Pads and laptops, mean people can work anywhere. Back health care needs to be fully understood within businesses, organisations need to help their employees by providing the right tools and training to provide the best working environment wherever they are.