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Why ergonomic products are essential in a modern workplace

Why ergonomic products are essential in a modern workplace

Having ergonomic products in your office was once seen a luxury or even a perk. No longer. Today’s smart employer realises that ergonomic products are a vital part of any modern business.

Asked why an employer should use ergonomic products in their workplace, most people would probably say because it reduces the chance of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), back problems and other injuries, which of course means lower sickness levels and absenteeism. All of which is true, but the consequences are actually even more far-reaching.

This Quick Guide explains why. We take you through not only the types of ergonomic products available, but the main problems those products are designed to avoid. And finish up with our Top 10 Tips when it comes to getting the best out of ergonomic products.

Give me 3 good reasons why I should care whether our office has ergonomic products

We’ll do better than that. Here’s five:

  1. Working using ergonomic products is healthier: resulting in less illness, fewer injuries and increased health awareness;
  2. Staff morale goes up: people get more job satisfaction, as they literally feel better about their work;
  3. Lower turnover, higher productivity and better work quality;
  4. Enhanced company image, as a caring employer and forward-thinking organisation;
  5. Lower indirect costs: from lower insurance to lower risk of legal proceedings.

Ergonomic products: 5 key areas for the computer user

1. Ergonomic keyboard

An ergonomic (or compact) keyboard creates a more ‘centered’ workplace, which is good for your posture. The thin design, flat keys and (usually) absence of a set of extra numbers to the keyboard’s right are all conducive to a compact, healthy posture. The keyboard’s thinness means you don’t need to bend your hands as you do with thicker conventional keyboards. The mouse can also be placed closer to the keyboard, helping relax arms and shoulders.

Ergonomic keyboards are sometimes V-shaped, so both your hands type at a slight angle, which is far more natural physiologically and again reduces the chances of injuries, particularly RSI.

Key features at-a-glance: flat design, wrists and arms aligned, mouse and arms closer to torso.

2. Ergonomic mouse

The difference between an ergonomic mouse (or vertical mouse) and a conventional mouse gets to the very heart of what makes an ergonomic product ergonomic.

The design of a conventional mouse is focused purely on short-term functionality: what is the best shape, maneuverability, screen interaction, etc to make the computer do what I want it to do right now? While an ergonomic mouse (like any truly ergonomic product) also takes into account ease of use, user behavior, avoidance of repeated inappropriate arm and hand positions that are more likely to bring on injuries, etc.

Benefits at-a-glance: hands, wrists and arms adopt more natural position; avoid unnatural tension in arms, reducing chance of pains in hand, wrist, arm, shoulder or neck; less pressure on wrist; better hand support, helping reduce chance of RSI.

3. Monitor arm

An adjustable monitor arm lets you set your screen to your ideal height, so that you naturally adopt a healthy posture: back straight not rounded, shoulders more pinned back and chest out.

A monitor arm also gives you a lot more flexibility. So you can quickly show something to a colleague standing beside you. Or reposition the screen to let you, for example, cross-refer a document on your screen with a large blueprint on your desk.

Benefits at-a-glance: better posture; relaxed back and neck; varied positioning, creating more varied sitting positions, and thus a more ergonomic workstation.

4. Laptop stand

If health experts, designers of ergonomic products, enlightened HR managers and other advocates of ergonomic working had their way, they would probably ban the laptop altogether. But those same professionals are also all too aware of the laptop’s benefits — that in a mobile and dynamic society, where the boundaries between work and free time have become blurred, the laptop is here to stay. Which is why most of those same experts have one themselves!

So, if you can’t beat them, at least make sure you don’t injure them. The laptop stand or notebook riser basically minimises the negative impact of using a laptop, the least ergonomic of all office products:

  • The top of your screen should preferably be at eye level. Normally that’s impossible with a laptop, but the laptop stand can correct that.
  • The distance between screen and keyboard is way too small with a laptop, forcing you to hunch over it. A laptop stand lets you place your screen at the right distance so you can adopt a healthy posture.

Benefits at-a-glance: better posture; less strain on your back, shoulders and neck; the convenience of short-term mobility without long-term immobility through injury.

5. Document holder

Just as with computer screens, documents are easier to read if placed at eye level. You don’t have to bend forward to read them, or be constantly twisting your neck from screen to document as you do when your document lies flat on your desktop.

Benefits at-a-glance: better posture; less strain on neck and back; document more centrally positioned reducing awkward head swivelling.

Our Top Tips: 10 Do’s & Don’ts when it comes to ergonomic products

  1. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it: ergonomic products are only ergonomic products if they are used properly and geared to the specific needs and physique of the individual who’s going to use them. So make sure everybody follows appropriate product guidance when installing or setting up their ergonomic products for the first time.

  2. Give ergonomic products a chance to work: Ergonomic products are not a miracle cure. They will only work if you use them in the context of an ergonomically responsible working pattern. For example, don’t sit in one position the whole day but regularly switch your posture. Let go of your mouse when you read a document on the screen. Stand up and wander about when you make a phone call (research suggests this also helps you sound more dynamic to the person on the other end of the phone!).

  3. The golden triangle: ergonomic products also have to work ergonomically in combination with each other. The cornerstone of this is what we refer to as the ‘golden triangle’: an ergonomic desk, ergonomic chair and ergonomic monitor stand, all positioned to suit your unique body. This way each ergonomic product enhances the ergonomic benefits of the other two (and if undermines those benefits if they are not set up properly).

  4. Focus on your main activities: Our bodies simply weren’t made to sit in the same position all day staring at a computer screen. So ensure that when you are sitting at your desk, you minimise the potential dangers by using ergonomic products. In particular, an ergonomic mouse, an ergonomic keyboard, a monitor arm and a document holder.

  5. Laptop damage limitation: we would say ideally avoid working with a laptop, as they are anything but ergonomic. But if you have to work with a laptop at your desk, combine it with an external display and laptop holder. Oh, and use a laptop case: carrying a laptop can be very bad for your back. So also try to minimise the amount of time you spend lugging it around. And don’t cram the case full of other stuff so it’s even heavier!

  6. Home working: Whether it’s work or surfing the internet, most of us also spend considerable time using a computer at home. So get appropriate ergonomic products for your home workplace, too. There’s a good chance you’ll be using a work laptop at home, so make sure you follow our laptop tips when you’re working at home, too.

  7. Sit-stand tables: Sit-stand tables are a real breakthrough in ergonomic products. They can be quickly raised so you can stand to work for a while, then lowered again so you can sit and work once more. The variation is not only ideal ergonomically. It can also give you a little energy boost. Ideal when you feel that mid-morning or afternoon dip coming on.

  8. Plants, Partitions and even Art: Some less likely office items can also work as ergonomic products. Take plants: research confirms plants in your office can increase productivity by up to 15%, as they have a positive impact both physically and psychologically. Plants also absorb sound, helping reduce noise levels, which is vital for ergonomic working and why most countries have laws about maximum decibels in the workplace. Consider installing special sound-absorbing partitions that reduce the decibels and avoid the brittle acoustic you get in a workspace with only hard surfaces. For the same reason, canvas works of art on the walls can also serve as ergonomic products.

  9. Prevention not cure: don’t make the classic mistake of thinking that because no one reports any aches, pains or other symptoms it means everything is fine. Take preventative steps. For example, a few months after first installing them, check people are still using their ergonomic products as intended. Send a 6-monthly reminder about the office guidelines on breaks and work variation. Not got any ergonomics guidelines yet? Develop them, ideally with input from employees! Because, just as with a healthy diet, awareness of ergonomic products and practices is a first important step towards a healthier workplace.

  10. Ergonomic culture. Closely linked to the previous tip is creating an open work culture. One where it’s OK to mention physical symptoms. Because if people can’t discuss such symptoms with their employer, they’ll be discussing them soon enough with their doctor. Fail to address the symptoms after that, and next thing you know someone in your office has a chronic injury and you’re getting a letter from their lawyers.

To learn how we can help ensure you have the ergonomic products to create a healthy, happy and productive workforce, contact us.