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Work Ergonomics - Just Buzz Words or a Critical Piece in Workplace Wellness?

Publish Date: Thu, February 01, 2018 - 8:20:00

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The way your workplace is designed and how you work are important when it comes to preventing and reducing strain to your body that can result in pain.  Rock Valley Physical Therapists Greg Monson and Larry Ratigan have some pointers in how to make sure your work environment does not contribute to the cause of pain.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is designing or adjusting a workspace to fit the employee in a way that maximizes productivity, efficiency and safety. This involves arranging the work so that it does not excessively stress the body but it also entails how a person does the job.

Both Monson and Ratigan are well-qualified to assess ergonomics. Monson has been with Rock Valley Physical Therapy for more than 28 years as a physical therapist in the workman’s compensation niche, meaning his job is to get people back to work. Ratigan has been with Rock Valley Physical Therapy for more than 23 years in a similar role and is certified as an ergonomics assessment specialist. He often goes directly to the worksite to check out the spaces in which his patients are working.

“We’re looking to create a work place that is healthy for the employee,” said Monson. “That involves identifying risk factors associated with employees’ pains or injuries and making changes to the work station.

“This age of technology in the workplace has resulted in stresses to the body that increase the chance of injury” added Ratigan. “We can help businesses and individuals identify these risk factors and recommend changes that reduce the stress.”

Why is ergonomics important?

Forty to 50 percent of work-related injuries are musculoskeletal in nature. Ergonomics can help address and correct risk factors for these types of injuries.  Monson and Ratigan’s goal is to minimize and reduce these injuries by proactively make adjustments to a person’s work environment..

A Liberty Mutual study identified that, in the workplace, overexertion and repetitive motion contribute to about 30 percent of musculoskeletal problems. Sedentary occupations are also more prevalent with the advancement of technology.  It is estimated that 50 to 70 percent of a person’s day consists of sitting which can contribute to musculoskeletal problems.  These are factors that ergonomics addresses in restructuring the workplace.

What can you do to reduce your risk of injury?

There are a few things that you can start doing to reduce your risk of developing a musculoskeletal problem or injury:

1. Refocus your eyes every 15 minutes, blinking more often
Eye strain is a huge problem in the workplace. Be sure your computer monitor is at a good working distance (about an arm’s length away) with room to sit back at a resting distance where you can refocus your eyes and relax them periodically.

2. Alternate between sitting and standing regularly
Our bodies aren’t meant to be in one position for long periods of time—we need to be moving.  At regular intervals, switch between sitting at your desk and standing or walking around – every 20-30 minutes. Being in one static, position is not healthy.

3. Be mindful of your posture
Do you find yourself leaning in toward your screen as the day goes on? Adjustments in posture such as this could be due to eye strain, tired muscles, improper seating or workplace design. Monitoring your posture can help alert you to when you need a break from your workstation.

4. Focus on creating a comfortable workstation
Workstation comfort includes finding a chair that can adjust to the correct height and provides back support.  Your desk or keyboard height should be at elbow level; the mouse should be at the same level as the keyboard.   Keep more frequently used items close to avoid reaching. 

5. Adjust your computer monitor properly
Again, your monitor should be an arm’s length (18-24”); top of the monitor at eye level. Be sure the screen is directly in front of you so that you don’t have to turn to see it. A properly positioned screen can help with eye fatigue and poor posture that leads to musculoskeletal issues.

Take these tips back to the workplace in order to adjust your space for the maximum ergonomic benefits and reduce your risk of musculoskeletal pain or injury. For interested employers, Rock Valley Physical Therapy also offers injury prevention and management services at your workplace. Worksite Therapy Services include:

  • Ergonomic / Injury Risk Assessment
  • Post Offer & Post Employment Testing
  • Early Injury Intervention 
  • Post Injury Rehabilitation & Management
  • Functional Capacity Evaluation
  • Essential Function Job Analysis

If you’re looking for more tips on an ergonomic workplace or would like to hear more information about Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s workplace programs, contact our 43rd Ave clinic in Moline at (309) 743-0300. 

Learn more about Greg Monson, PT, OCS.

Learn more about Larry Ratigan, PTA, CEAS.

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