4 Office ergonomic tips to improve workplace wellness

4 Office ergonomic tips to improve workplace wellness

Published on 30th June, 2021 at 07:58 pm

Office ergonomics play a vital role in the overall wellness of employees. Here are tips to make sure that your working space and habits stand you in good stead for long-term wellbeing.

Our bodies were designed to move. But an alarming number of us aren’t moving enough. According to a global study conducted by World Health Organization (WHO), a quarter of the world’s adult population are dangerously inactive. In South Africa, 47% of women and 29% of men are getting less than the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

Modern technology has also changed how we work. Since many people’s jobs have them deskbound or working in physically demanding conditions for up to eight hours a day, we are now facing unprecedented ergonomic challenges. “As office work (and, in the times of COVID-19, home-based office work) continues to increase, it’s vital to take cognisance of the various challenges this type of work presents to employees’ wellbeing and productivity,” explain Sma Ngcamu-Tukulula and Dr Jonathan Davy of The Ergonomics Society of South Africa (ESSA).

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Here are tips for office and remote workers to improve their workplace wellness. Creating a mentally and ergonomically healthy work environment will lead to maximum productivity, and stand you in good stead for long-term wellbeing.

Workplace wellness tip #1: Reduce lower back pain

“Back pain is a complex, multifaceted musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) and one that continues to be a significant health burden to individuals in general society and the context of work,” say Ngcamu-Tukulula and Dr Davy. “There is a misconception that it results only from exposure to physical strain, such as sitting in an inappropriate chair. But back pain is multifactorial. Genetics play a factor, as can work-related demands, such as prolonged sitting, poor posture or twisting and bending because of a poor workstation set-up.” Psychosocial stress can also contribute to or exacerbate musculoskeletal disorders (disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and spinal discs), according to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

Managing your exposure to these contributory factors can reduce or prevent back pain. Ngcamu-Tukulula and Dr Davy suggest:
● Investing in furniture that can be adjusted to match your body shape and dimensions.
● Using a chair with a backrest that you can use for support instead of crouching forward.
● Sitting with both your feet flat and firmly on the ground.
● Having your knees at an approximate 90-degree angle and in line with the height of your hips.
● Making sure that the chair seat is wide enough to accommodate most of your backside.

Workplace wellness tip #2: Prevent eye strain

“Eye strain results from periods of intense and prolonged use of the eyes by either reading, driving or interacting with various screen technologies,” explain Ngcamu-Tukulula and Dr Davy. “While not severe, eye strain, in the context of office work, can affect worker wellbeing and performance, as it is associated with headaches, blurred vision, eye dryness and pain.”

To help to minimise the risk of eye strain, Ngcamu-Tukulula and Dr Davy suggest:
● Ensuring that the distance of the screen from your eyes isn’t too far or too close. The optimal distance is approximately an arm’s length away while seated.
● Adjusting the brightness of the screen or room. If the lighting is too bright or too dim, this can increase eye strain over long periods.
● Make sure that your workspace lighting is optimal to limit glare so that you don’t have to change your posture to see the screen better.
● Position the screen in such a way that windows or bright light sources don’t create a glare on the screen.
● Every 20 minutes, look at something six metres away for at least 20 seconds. This helps to relax the eye muscles and alleviate strain associated with close, intense screen work.

Workplace wellness tip #3: Position your computer properly

To perform at your peak, both now and in the long term, your desk needs to be set up and organised correctly. This doesn’t just refer to keeping it clutter-free, but also how you position your computer for better office ergonomics. Ngcamu-Tukulula and Dr Davy recommend that you keep the following in mind when setting up your workstation:
“The top of the computer screen should be approximately at seated eye height and an arm’s length away to prevent bending the neck and shoulders trying to view the screen. Laptop screens should be used with a secondary screen, if possible, for the same reason.”
“The keyboard should be positioned in front of you as close as possible to seated elbow height. When interacting with the keyboard, wrists should be in a neutral posture and not extended.”
“The mouse should be used close to your body (aligned to shoulder position) to prevent having to reach unnecessarily.”

Workplace wellness tip #4: Moving is mandatory!

One of the best ways to prevent a range of ergonomic issues is to make sure that you are taking regular breaks – at least once every hour – to stretch your legs and relax your eyes. This can reduce your risk of lower back pain and eyestrain and improve your performance.

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Ngcamu-Tukulula and Dr Davy also highlight the importance of having an appropriate work-life balance. “Maintain a healthy lifestyle by being physically active regularly, eating a balanced diet and getting sufficient good-quality sleep. This can help to offset the sedentary behaviour and extended screen time associated with office-based work.”

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