99 Sources Of Workspace Issues; 1 Solution

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Most of us have heard of the word ergonomics; we associate it with our workstations and our work life. Most people are under the illusion that ergonomics is just the chair you sit on, or the keyboard on your desk. Did you know that the operating system on your smartphone is an example of ergonomics? So is the cup you drink out of in the morning. Have you ever considered how poor ergonomics could affect your health?


Ergonomics is all around us – it is our ability to adapt our environments to suit our needs. When our environment causes an issue, our body lets us know. Everyone knows what it feels like to sit in an uncomfortable chair, or look at a television that is too far over to the side. Your mind will also tell you; this may lead to irritability, uneasiness or even anxiety if you were stuck in that position for any length of time.

How do we change it? Do we simply change chairs, or turn off the television. Unfortunately this is not enough, we must ensure that it doesn’t happen again and so we must fit the task to ourselves.

 

The World of Ergonomics

Physical ergonomics is the physical load that is placed on the human body when performing activities. If you sit on a stool all day, there is a greater physical load placed on the lower back than if you were sitting in a chair. If your screen is too low, a greater load is placed down through the neck than if it was at the correct height. We often place a load on the body by repeating an action multiple times. For example, mousing seems like a very low load activity and that is true. However, if  you have to reach for you mouse every time you use it, say 2-3,000 times per day, then the load is greatly increased.

30% of workers complain of backache

45% report painful or tiring position at work (1)

Sedentary work can cause an increase in physical load on the body as well. The modern workplace has changed and the amount of time spent sitting has greatly increased in recent decades. Long periods of uninterrupted sitting in particular places increased pressures on multiple areas of the body. The longer we spend in one position, the greater the impact on the body. This goes for both sitting and standing. Moving between the two postures has been shown to have the greatest benefits to the body.

About the nearly half of all employees worldwide are required to stand for more than 75% of their workdays (2)                                    

Sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60% (3)   

Organisational ergonomics encompasses the optimisation of sociotechnical systems, including their organisational structures, policies, and processes. How we choose to communicate during our day has a major influence on our work practices. With so many different options available to us, the potential for harm has never been greater but also the potential to change has never been easier.

In business in 2013, over 100 billion emails were sent and received per day. Over 132 billion emails will be sent and received per day by the end of 2017 (4)

How many emails do you send per day? Phone calls? How many times do you get and go to a co-worker's desk instead of emailing? This is often an area of a person's work day that they can affect with immediate effect. Walking while talking on the phone and walking to a co-worker's desk are simple changes to work processes. A workday should have scheduled breaks throughout within your calendar. These are allocated times that allow you to switch off and get a drink of water, etc. These breaks are very important for the structure of your day, because it allows you to work towards them knowing that they are scheduled.

Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response. Examples include workload, situation awareness, decision making, and planning. All of these things combine to influence your work day.

It takes an average of about 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption (5). By taking 30 seconds “to check Twitter” it’s not just 30 seconds down the drain, it’s 25 minutes and 30 seconds.(6)

Sometimes having two screens, or even three screens or four screens, can be very distracting and potentially has a negative effect on output. Setting up your screens and your workflow is essential to enhancing productivity. It is good practice to assign a main screen to your workflow, this is defined as the screen you type on and it should sit directly in front of you.

For example, workstations with multiple screens can have spreadsheets open on one screen and emails on the other. If emails pop up, then your attention is immediately taken away from your spreadsheet task and you switch over and start typing the email. If your job allows, try to avoid switching between screens to type text because this constantly pulls your attention away from your priority task. By assigning a main screen as the screen you type on, this practice is reduced and the disruption of constantly jumping screens is minimised. If your mind is constantly being distracted by multiple sources of information, then how can it concentrate on its current task?

Attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.” (6)

Some interruptions are unavoidable but many are down to a lack of planning and poor procedures. Unfortunately, people often compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price. Forcing yourself to work faster can lead to a person experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort. All of these combine to affect your work day, your work practices and potentially your work health.

 

The Different Influences Of Ergonomics: Example

These three different types of ergonomics influence our lives in unique ways. Each area should be considered when approaching a task and especially when a problem presents itself.

For example, if you are experiencing an issue with your shoulder:

  • Is it the fact that you use your mouse in that hand and it is broken?
  • Is it the fact that you always lean to one side and reach across to your printer?
  • Is it the lack of planning of your work day that keeps you in one position for long periods?

The above example illustrates all three different types of ergonomics. All three play a part and it is no coincidence that if all three are true, then you will experience a problem on that side sooner or later. All three must be corrected for a true, long lasting effect to be maintained.

Solutions:

  • A new mouse is required and should be positioned correctly (Physical). The mouse speeds and scrolling settings should also be altered.
  • The desk should be reorganised to accommodate the printer (Organisational), or it should be removed to a more appropriate location.
  • Sitting for long periods in one position will cause added stresses to be placed on the body (Cognitive), so if your day does not allow then your work practices need to be altered to accommodate these changes.

 

Modern Technology

With the current explosion in advancements of technology, everywhere you look now you will see people with their heads looking down at smartphones, tablets, laptops or something else that forces their head into a downward position. Generally speaking, technology was designed without proper posture and physical, organisational and cognitive ergonomics in mind.

The modern day workstation is now mobile and as a result we have to be accessible and on the go at all times. This should not be in detriment to our overall health. Using a laptop for long periods can force us into an undesirable position and increase force down through our bodies structures. By using a laptop stand, external keyboard and external mouse while you work away from your desk you have the ability to greatly reduce pressure being placed on the neck. Simple changes like this can help to keep you working for longer and in good health.

How many times do you check your phone during the day? New research says people check their phones 160 times per day, over an 18 hour period. Most people are right handed, they look down and right with their necks (physical) and hold that position for who knows how long (organisational) and increased mental workload with increased usage (cognitive). If you think no damage is being caused, then I suggest you try and see how long you can hold that position without a phone in your hand.

With all the new sources of information available to us, new challenges are present in the workplace in terms of our ability to organise our day and maintain our cognitive thought processes.

 

One Solution

It is important to take a look at your entire day and how it affects you, taking into account each of the three principles above. This will help to increase productivity, reduce time lost due to outside influences and increase your comfort while at work. If you are experiencing an issue, it is more than likely coming from multiple sources rather than just one and so everything must be taken into account.

 

Summary

There are many different sources of potential risk at a workstation. Minimising their impact and alleviating any issues must be a priority for your work life. It may only take a few minutes to set up your workstation correctly, but it may be the most productive thing you do today.

 

References

  1. https://osha.europa.eu/en/tools-and-publications/publications/factsheets/3
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150714093611.html 
  3. http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/fitness/how-much-do-you-need-to-exercise-to-offset-sitting-all-day-1.2737148
  4. Like sitting, standing in the workplace may have long-term health consequence: July 14, 2015, Human Factors and ErgonomicsSociety
  5. THE RADICATI GROUP, Statistics Report, 2013-2017 Editor: Sara Radicati, PhD; Principal Analyst: Justin Levenstein
  6. The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress. G Mark, D Gudith and U Klocke (2008). CHI '08 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, P107-110.

 

Julie Farrar