Ergonomics: what is it and why is it important?

Ergonomics is the study of the relationship between people and their physical work environment. One area of focus is on designing computer workstations and job tasks for safety and efficiency. Effective ergonomics design coupled with good posture can reduce employee injuries and increase job satisfaction and productivity.

Common Ergonomic Risk Factors

Jobs involving computer use may pose ergonomic problems if they include one or more of these risk factors:

  • Repetition: doing the same motions over and over again, such as using the mouse
  • Awkward Body Postures: maintaining an unsupported fixed or awkward posture such as bending the wrist, reaching forward to use a keyboard or sitting in an unbalanced manner.
  • Force: physical exertion or pressure applied to any part of the body while working, such as leaning on the wrist while maneuvering the mouse, tightly gripping the mouse and bracing the telephone handset between the neck and shoulder.
  • Contact Stress: pressure on soft tissues of the body, such as the wrist when leaning on the desk or the front edge of the desk.

Not all musculoskeletal risk factors are work-related, they can result from other factors including:

  • Certain medical conditions: rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, obesity, pregnancy or menopause.
  • Free time activities: hobbies or chores that involve repetitive motion, awkward postures, or force for extended periods of time.

The common symptoms of repetitive motion Injuries that can be attributed to poor ergonomic setup often start with minor pain and discomfort, but may have the potential to become more serious. Early ergonomic intervention can reduce the potential risk of injury. Some early warnings of potential injury associated with improper work space setup are:

  • Pain in back, neck, shoulder, arm or wrist
  • Eye strain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Stiffness or cramping
  • Inability to hold objects or loss of grip strength

Symptoms that go away overnight are usually a sign of fatigue. Symptoms that are continuous or persist during the work week, subside on the week-end and then recur the following week may indicate a more serious problem. Those experiencing such symptoms should seek medical attention. Repetitive motion injuries are easier to treat in their early stages. Ignoring symptoms could lead to chronic or serious injury.