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Supporting Workplace Diversity through Ergonomics

Thursday, February 26, 2009
By Anne Kramer

One of the hallmarks of an excellent workplace is a diverse staff. Ergonomics offers a method for promoting office diversity, because it makes the environment accessible for a wider variety of employees. Making the office ergonomically friendly is a surefire method of supporting and promoting a diverse workforce.

An End to the “One Size Fits All” Approach
It is important to implement ergonomic workstation design and offer ergonomically optimized tools. In addition to fulfilling legal requirements to provide accommodations and modifications as necessary, adopting ergonomic measures allows an employer to expand the pool of eligible workers.

Basic Accommodations Support All Body Types
The most basic ergonomic interventions ensure that the workplace is adaptable for people of varying heights and statures. This makes workstations suitable regardless of size, The main benefit of accommodating employees of various body types is that the office will be comfortable for employees of both genders.

  • Items like footrests ensure that employees who are shorter in stature maintain proper posture while typing.

  • Monitor risers make the workstation more user friendly for taller employees.

  • Adjustable furniture, especially chairs and work surfaces, can be adapted to accommodate employees of any height.

Modifications for Employees with Physical Limitations
Primary concerns for employees who have physical impairments include limits on strength, reach, and range of motion. These modifications will benefit not only individuals with specific physical handicaps, but also individuals who are older.

  • Spatial organization can be optimized to reduce reaching distance. Frequently used items should be within 16 inches of the user. Pull-out shelves an desk carousels minimize reaching.

  • Objects and tools that require grasping should be adapted for the user’s capabilities. Electric office tools like staplers and hole punches are excellent alternatives to traditional manual ones.

  • Employees who use wheelchairs need adjustable work surfaces to accommodate the wheelchair.
Adaptations for Pregnant Employees
During pregnancy, a woman’s physiology changes rapidly and constantly. Her workstation must allow for these changes, which affect reaching distance, posture, and lifting capabilities.
  • It is important to reduce twisting the spine, since pregnancy puts extra strain on ligaments. A document holder protects the muscles and ligaments in the neck and back.

  • Pregnant women should not lift more than ten pounds. Carts minimize the risk of injury due to lifting excessive weight.

  • Because a pregnant woman carries so much extra weight, standing for long periods places extra stress on her body. Anti-fatigue mats reduce the impact of standing.
Simple adaptations can make any office ergonomically friendly for employees with a wide array of physical needs. Employers who adopt these modifications will improve employee morale because by demonstrating that they embrace diversity in their workplace.

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