The Fundamental Principles of Ergonomics

What makes a reliable worker? Resilience? Composure? Timeliness? Perhaps “productivity” is arguably the most valuable attribute of an employee. But how do we bolster productivity? More than working hard or remaining dedicated, what if there were key principles of physicality that could enable us to function as our most productive selves?

Enter ergonomics. 

The word ergonomics derives from an Ancient Greek expression meaning the “laws of work.” Less a mandate, more a physical necessity, the principles of ergonomics are a set of instructions that seek to enhance our behavior in the workplace. They increase our mobility and better our operation of utilities in a work environment. For you to flourish and function in the workplace at your highest capacity, it is vital that you consider these key principles:

Minimize Pressure Points

Whether sitting at a desk job, driving Uber, or working heavy machinery, there are going to be certain pressure points in your body that feel the strain of your daily tasks. This could be the lower back that aches at the end of a long day in a rigid chair, or the weakened knees that feel the pressure of carrying heavy tools. No matter your specific pain or discomfort, there are ergonomic solutions. Perhaps an anti-fatigue mat that absorbs the tension you carry from being on your feet all day. Perhaps a cushioned and supportive chair, positioned in such a way that your legs hang straight rather than bending at the knee. 

The point is this: the fundamental principles of ergonomics is to mitigate the strains caused by tasks required in the workplace. And today, our understanding of these principles is better than ever. 

Reduce Excessive Motions

Even banalest and repetitive tasks can take a toll on our bodies. Repetitive motions1 such as:

  • The motion of typing on a keyboard
  • The wrist action of using a mouse
  • The clamped wrist from using a pen all day (if held incorrectly)
  • The strain on our thumbs caused by using phones and tablets.

It can be easy to underestimate these smaller or subtler aches. The issue is that they creep up over long periods of time and have the potential to cause long-lasting damage. The slight irritation or strain of fingers on a keyboard over time can breed carpal tunnel syndrome and the need for surgery.

There are two solutions here. The first is the regular discipline of taking breaks. Understand the need to shake up your activities: to step away from your desk and allow your body to rest in between work tasks. The second is to seek devices that have ergonomic cushioning that ease the strain of these repetitive motions. Mount-It’s range of ergonomic keyboards and mouse pads elevate the wrist with padded support, making these small repetitive motions as comfortable as possible. 

Avoid Awkward Posture

One of the main problems in poor ergonomics is the tendency to delineate to awkward posture. This is easy to do. Over the day our bodies grow weary and so does our good posture. The natural reaction is to squirm and strain and try and find a position that makes us feel more comfortable. Awkward posture encompasses more than just an arched back or turtleneck. Awkward posture means the strain of knees bent at a taut angle, or drooping elbows when misplaced upon a table: it is any time our bodies overcompensate for the sake of reducing discomfort. 

The ergonomic solution is to strive for a “neutral posture.” That which is most natural, least tense, and where our bodily proportions are recognized. An example of this would be to install an ergonomic monitor stand for your computer screen. This gives you the flexibility to adjust the screen to meet the proportions of your chair and to create an environment where you are looking up at your screen rather than craning your neck downwards (which would be deemed awkward). 

Lessen Contact Stress

Contact stress2 is caused by the interaction of delicate tendons with sharp or hard surfaces. The nerves and tissue underneath the skin are damaged by the mechanical pressure of the sharp surface. For those handling heavy machinery, the effects of contact stress will be obvious. However, even for those working in a traditional office environment, the simple scrape of a wrist upon the edge of a desk would constitute contract stress. 

Contact stress can be countered by:

  • Safety padding on sharp objects
  • Soft cushioning on hard surfaces 
  • Elevation of the wrists so that they don’t run on hard surfaces 
  • Taking breaks or allowing rest in between repetitive motions

Next Steps

Once one understands the principles of ergonomics, they have the capacity to identify and rectify areas of poor ergonomics in the workplace. It is a vital tool that equips you to take action that will benefit the entirety of your company culture, eliminate risk of injury, and build a productive future for all employees. 


Sources:

1: http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/healthrisks/physical-ill-health-risks/repetitive-work.htm

 2: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5327/db281fe2350d31cf01bb28f4642cec1374d8.pdf