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The next time someone says “work is stressing me out,” they may be talking about more than a demanding boss. According to the Kensington Stress Survey, 60% of American workers are experiencing musculoskeletal pain (pain in the neck, wrist, back, shoulders or eyes) on a regular basis, and experts say it may be because we’re not getting the support we need from our office environment. Things like poor lighting, repetitive movement, strenuous activity, stiff chairs and inflexible workstations are contributing to conditions known as cumulative trauma disorders (CTD), repetitive stress injuries (RSI) and work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD).
As an employer, this should be of concern because these conditions tend to result in reduced productivity and increased insurance costs. Is your workplace ergonomically efficient? Dr. Peter Budnick, a certified professional ergonomist and president of ErgoWeb Inc. in Midway, Utah, says that if companies checked, 90% of them would find that they are not providing ergonomically healthy environments. The reason is that many employers and employees are unaware of the correlation between workplace ergonomics and painful conditions such as tendinitis, chronic headaches, sciatica, synovitis (a form of arthritis) and epicondylitis (an injury to the elbow). Employers don’t know that they are supposed to make special provisions and employees don’t know to report problems.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has been working hard to convince Congress to enact a bill that would require companies to follow an OSHA Ergonomics Standards Plan in order to curtail the number of CTDs, RSIs and WMSDs. Budnick explains: “When a company has a cumulative trauma [or other work-related injury] reported, OSHA wants the plan to kick in. It would mandate that the company follow six specific steps.” They are management, hazard identification, job hazard analysis, training, medical management and program evaluation.
The Ergonomics Plan carefully explains how management should get involved; what kind of steps it should take to treat reported CTD; the reporting mechanisms necessary to effectively file future incidents; what symptoms to look for and what preventative measures to consider implementing to keep the number of incidents down.
These are some basic suggestions for improvement:
- Provide chairs with range of motion, vertical and back adjustments.
- Give workers options in furniture shapes, sizes and arrangement based on their height and what the furniture will be used for.
- Provide frequent breaks to employees who perform tasks with repetitive movement, i.e., typing, lifting, talking on the phone, surfing the Net.
- Encourage moderate exercise. Even short walks help prevent stiffness.
- For heavy computer users, consider large monitors, foot rests, ergonomic keyboards (wave keyboards) and wrist support devices.
- For heavy phone users, provide headsets for hands-free talking.
- Train employees on the proper use of their equipment and alert them to the signs and dangers of WMSDs.