The Loop

The Benefits of Ergonomics

Filed under: Benefits

A nationwide survey conducted by Stanford University found that 42 percent of the US workforce now works from home on a full-time basis. It is largely assumed that even after the pandemic is contained, a large portion of workers will continue to do so either on a full or part-time basis. 

This presents quite a challenge for employers with staff working offsite. For one thing, jobs that enable this type of work generally require sitting at a desk for many hours each day. Away from the office, employers have no idea what kind of office set up homeworkers have and whether or not it is conducive to ergonomic health and productivity.

Alas, while many homeowners have a designated office or space where a computer is set up, many have had to scramble to create a make-shift office where they have some semblance of quiet, privacy, and organization. However, it is likely they have not invested in high-end ergonomic furniture and accessories designed to prevent strains or injuries related to office work. For example, lower back pain and conditions arising from repetitive task movements are common ailments for people who sit at a computer all day. 

Repetitive motion disorders (RMDs), such as carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendonitis, epicondylitis, ganglion cyst, tenosynovitis, and trigger finger, are caused by repeated motions performed in the course of normal work or daily activities. The most affected parts of the body include hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, as well as the neck, back, hips, knees, feet, legs, and ankles. They are characterized by pain, tingling, numbness, swelling or redness, and can lead to the loss of flexibility and strength. The science of ergonomics is designed to provide products that help mitigate the effect of repetitive activities that lead to these conditions.

Ergonomics refers to everything related to body functions that work in concert, including  eyesight, noise, and motion. The goal is to prevent injuries and ailments that can be caused by these movements so that a worker can move naturally, safely, and without discomfort. A well-designed ergonomic workspace may incorporate furniture, devices, and tools such as:

  • Adjustable workbenches and computer screens
  • Chairs, arm rests, foot rests
  • Desk accessories, tilting storage bins, tool rack solutions
  • Overhead and task lighting 


First and foremost, ergonomic workspaces can help reduce pain, strengthen muscles, and increase blood flow. As this happens, the worker tends to feel less anxiety and have increased awareness, improved moods, and heightened focus. Thus, the better his ability to concentrate, the higher his productivity level.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Repetitive work strain disorders such as lower back pain can be very expensive for an employer. Research shows that $1 out of every $3 in workers’ compensation costs, and an average of 12 days of lost productivity each year, are attributed to musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). An integrative approach to alleviating the causes of back pain in the workplace can save up to $11,000 per employee per year.

According to a review by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the

indirect costs related to physical strain on the job can be twenty times greater than the direct cost of treating the injury. Developing ergonomic solutions can yield the following average reductions:

  • 59% of musculoskeletal disorders
  • 65% in incidence rate
  • 75% in lost workdays
  • 68% in workers’ compensation costs
  • 39% in cost per claim
  • 43% in labor costs

Ergonomic Solutions

The important thing to know about ergonomic products is that they are not one-size-fits-all. They must be tailored not only for the nature of the job and its requisite activities, but also for the individual worker.

For example, a workstation for an administrative position that does not involve heavy lifting and for which all the tools necessary are within arm’s reach, should focus on comfortable seating with the option to stand while working. Recent cognitive studies have shown that standing and moving around periodically throughout the day can help improve memory, attentiveness, learning, and cognitive performance.

On the other hand, jobs that require lifting heavy loads and continuous movement should focus on comfortable conditions for standing, with the option to sit when possible.

But beyond the job, consider the person. Clearly a hefty 6’5’’ male worker will not fit in the same workstation as a petite 5’2’’ female worker. The key to ergonomic solutions is to accommodate all body-types.

 Chair – Ergonomic chairs have been shown to generate between 15% and 20% more productivity, so they do offer a return on investment. This type of office chair may provide appropriate lumbar support through backrest tweaks, adjustable arm rests, a five-legged star base, and adjustable up-and-down depth settings to optimize comfort. A chair might provide the option for a worker to lean back with a laptop on her lap, so she’s not hunched over a desk all day. It should be flexible enough to accommodate the user’s size and any fixed-height restrictions of the work surface.

Desk/Workspace – Sitting for too long can create monotony and loss of focus. The latest trend in ergonomic desks is the ability to raise or lower the working position. Some ergonomic desk models feature a lower tier for the keyboard. By changing desk positions throughout the day, a worker can relieve body tension caused by repetition, prevent eye and neck strain, stretch back and leg muscles, and increase blood flow to reduce potential swelling. There are even desk converters that can be placed on top of an existing desk and adjusted to different height settings – which may be a good solution for people who already have a desk in their home office. The use of ergonomic desks has been linked to improved mood and energy levels, as well as higher productivity.

Computer Monitor – Monitors should have the flexibility to be moved around, whether raised or lowered, or moved inward or outward depending on how the worker adjusts his seating arrangement. Large computer monitors may be installed on a desk arm or mounted to the wall, and some jobs may need to accommodate at least two monitors for optimum productivity. The worker should know how to adjust contrast and brightness levels to suit the environment and the worker’s comfort level in order to reduce eye strain. Another tool deployed by heavy computer users are blue light blocking glasses. The lens are made with anti-reflective coating that helps eliminate glare and filter high-energy blue light that is known to cause headaches and disrupt sleep.

Mouse – Although a computer mouse generally requires very slight movements, the constant repetition can lead to arm and wrist pain. Researchers recommend using a vertical mouse, which positions the hand in a handshake position at a 57-degree angle. The thumb and fingers wrap on opposite sides of the mouse, with fingertips operating a scroll key and buttons much like a flat mouse. The vertical style reduces hand motions by four times, preventing wrist pressure and muscle fatigue. It is the ideal solution for people who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome.

Lighting – Visual comfort is just as important as physical comfort. Lighting should be appropriate to the space and the worker. For example, a light shining on the left side of a right-hander may be fine, but if the light is position on his right side, it may create shadows that make it difficult for him to see what he’s writing. In some cases, two lights may be preferable. In other cases,, an overhead light and a moveable task lamp might work best. Consideration should be given to the choice of LED, low-pressure sodium, mercury, or fluorescent lights. The workspace also should take into account natural light during different times of the day, and the need for window coverings at times when natural light is too bright. The benefit to ergonomic lighting solutions is that the brain takes less energy to process information, which can prevent headache and fatigue.

Noise – While noise-cancellation headphones or earbuds may be essential on the factory floor, consider their usefulness in a home office where children are playing, the television is blaring, and the laundry machine is running. The combination of active noise-cancellation technology and a closed ear design can shut out distractions for workers, not to mention enable them to listen to their favorite playlist, an informational podcast, or check into a Zoom meeting without having to find a quiet place in the house.

Ergonomic solutions are not a fad; they are proven, high-yield productivity enhancers that can aid workers, prevent health conditions, and reduce company expenses. In the coming years, as the workforce ages, this type of program will continue to provide benefits. Whether working from home or the office, an ergonomics program can foster a stronger safety culture at your company and lead to improved worker performance.

If your organization is planning to let personnel work from home going forward, consider ways to help them optimize their work environment. You can offer ergonomic education materials, consultation and customized recommendations, reimbursement or office supply stipends, supplies, and resources to accommodate their needs.

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