By Vanessa Warne, Furniture Category Director, VOW

Sizing up a new office to see how much furniture it can house is one thing, but making sure the people using it will be able to do so comfortably and efficiently is another.

Ensuring your workplace is ergonomically designed does not just improve productivity, increase employee wellbeing and help to attract and keep the best people, but is also a legal requirement.

The average office worker sits for seven hours a day, with the evolution in technology, including laptops and tablets, bringing a new set of ergonomic challenges. Poorly designed workstations and badly sited equipment can cause problems in the lower back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs.

One in three office workers report ailments as a result of sitting for long periods, and work related musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 34% of all days off taken by UK employees for ill health in 2015/16. The symptoms of an upper limb disorder can include tenderness, aches and pains, stiffness, weakness, tingling, numbness or swelling.

Employees see ergonomics as essential. Research by Fellowes has found that 95% of workers believe that the office environment and workstations are the most important factors for wellbeing at work, and 77% believe that companies with strong health and wellbeing ethics attract the best employees.

Here are four ways to get ergonomics right:

  1. Risk assessments

Knowledge of how people are working with equipment and what they need to do their jobs healthily and easily is essential. Businesses need to carry out regular workstation assessments and check that their employees are comfortable at work.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employers have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to manage and control the risks of upper limb disorders.

If workers are using computers, employers should comply with the requirements of the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992. Portable equipment such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones are subject to these regulations if people are using them for long periods at work.

  1. Know your position

Employers need to check that desk-based employees are sitting properly and have what they need to do their work safely and efficiently.

A worker’s back should rest against the contours of their chair and their eyes should be level with their screen. Ideally the user should be sitting with their feet on the floor before their knees, rather than twisted around their chairs and their head shouldn’t need to twist to look at their screen.

Workers should be trained in how to minimise the risk of injury, by sitting comfortably, ensuring their screen is positioned so it’s easy to read and by taking frequent breaks. Wherever possible, portable technology should be placed on a firm surface at a comfortable height. Where laptops or tablets are in prolonged use at work, additional steps can be taken to reduce risks, such as using a riser.

  1. Ergonomic seating

Office chairs are often top of the list when it comes to ergonomic products. If you want to ensure individual needs are met, every feature of an ergonomic chair should be adjustable, including the seat, backrest and armrests. For example, workers should be able to adjust their armrests so that their arms can be tucked into their sides with their elbows bent at 90 degrees.

Employers should think about user height and size when choosing a chair.  Office chairs with seat slides can offer more leg support for taller people, while heavier people may require a different solution such as a chair with the right weight allowance. A one-size-fits-all approach to chairs is unlikely to be successful.

Sit-stand desks encourage workers to mix their working position by standing up and sitting down at regular intervals. This could be vital for anyone in a role that involves sitting down for long periods of time.

There are also kneeling chairs which promote good posture and core strength.

  1. Ergonomic accessories

There are plenty of vital products that back up better ergonomics, including risers for laptops, wrist supports, lighting accessories and foot rests.

For attracting new talent and retaining existing employees, employers who invest in their workers’ wellbeing are much more likely to come out on top. Creating a healthier workplace makes sense to the bottom line, improves morale, complies with legislation and visibly demonstrates an employer’s commitment to its people.

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