Ergonomics is a common term used in product design, but in the workplace, ergonomics provides a means of adjusting the work environment and work practices to prevent injuries before they occur. This is important because the cost to UK businesses, per annum, for employee absence and sick days is a staggering £29bn according to a research report by PwC.
To tackle this issue, forward-thinking companies are investing in health and wellbeing services before absence starts to hit their bottom line. Improving ergonomics in the workplace is one way to contribute to your employees’ health and wellbeing and help minimise the risk of sickness absence.
What is ‘ergonomics’?
‘Ergonomics’ is based upon the concept of designing items to match the individuals who use them. In the workplace, this can cover employee tasks and their work environment. In some roles which involve heavy lifting or moving bulky equipment, a mismatch between the normal duties of the job and the physical capabilities of the individual could result in injuries, such as back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injury, which all come under the banner of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Key benefits of ergonomics in the workplace
Whilst the workplace may be a factory floor or an office, there are ways to make the working environment more comfortable for your employees. In doing so it can help towards reducing work-related injuries and consequently reducing potential sick days and costs due to absence. Some of the key benefits of introducing a more ergonomic working environment for your staff include:
- Boosting employee productivity and performance – by designing a job to allow for good posture, less exertion, fewer motions and better heights and reaches, the workstation becomes more efficient and productive which in turn may enhance employee performance.
- Improving quality of work – if a working environment or the accessories and equipment to do the job are poor then this can lead to frustrated staff. If a job is too physically and/or mentally draining for a person, they may become dis-engaged and less productive. A loss of concentration or reduction in attention to detail could create a product quality issue.
- Enhancing employee engagement – when a company is considered to be taking the health and wellbeing of its employees seriously, and communicates this clearly, employees should start to take notice. If your employees feel cared for and do not experience frustration or discomfort during their working week, it can reduce absenteeism, improve employee morale and increase employee involvement in company initiatives – all signs of more engaged workers. Longer term this can have a positive effect on employee retention.
- Creating a better culture of health and safety – ergonomics is a positive way of demonstrating your company’s commitment to health and safety as a ‘core value’. A stronger safety culture for your company means it can help to develop healthier and more vigilant employees who are a valuable asset, as they can create and nurture the safety culture within the business which may lead to increased performance.
Now you have considered the benefits, have a think about how you can improve ergonomics in your own workplace. Posture is a great place to start, as poor posture is one of the common causes of back pain, according to the NHS. You may want to consider introducing workstation risk assessments on office equipment, chairs and desks and make a checklist for improvement.