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Ergonomics for the Standing Workstation

Tuesday, August 25, 2009
By Anne Kramer

Just as sitting at work all day can cause fatigue and muscle stress, so can standing all day. This position, however, is necessary for many occupations such as assembly line work, machine operation, or even retail sales. Although standing is a natural position, it allows less range of motion and position. Because the muscles remain more static, people who consistently stand at work risk the following injuries:

  • Pooling of blood in the legs and feet, which can lead to inflammation or varicose veins;
  • Wear on joints in the feet, knees, hips, and spine, which can eventually get stiff or locked;
  • Degeneration of the tendons and ligaments, a major contributor to rheumatic diseases like arthritis;
  • Insufficient blood flow to major muscle groups, causing chronic fatigue and muscle strain in the back, neck, and legs; and
  • Loss of bone alignment in the feet, causing flat feet and other podiatric inflammation.

The best method for preventing these injuries is creating a workstation where employees can alternate between sitting and standing. Adjustable work surfaces and chairs effectively accommodate posture changes. Often, however, such adjustments are not possible. In that case, specific standing-friendly ergonomic measures can ease the stress of consistent standing.

  • A static work surface means that shorter employees may need a platform stand on, in order to maintain proper posture. Conversely, taller employees may need a pedestal on top of the work surface, to raise the height of the task itself.
  • Twisting and bending to reach frequently used items places extra pressure on the back and shoulders. Tools and controls should be positioned within easy reach.
  • Anti-fatigue mats reduce the stress of standing for long periods. They can be placed under virtually any workstation, and are often equipped with anti-slip gripping to make them even more effective in preventing injuries.
  • Proper footwear with thick, insulating soles also decreases muscle and joint stress in the legs and feet. Shock absorbing insoles add another layer of protection. In conjunction with anti-fatigue mats, proper footwear can significantly reduce fatigue.

Sometimes the structure of the job itself can also be modified to encourage greater variety in working posture. These rearrangements also offer the opportunity to foster greater versatility among employees:

  • The integration of short, frequent breaks throughout the course of the day diminishes overall wear on muscles and joints. Longer, less frequent breaks are less effective.
  • Duty rotation allows workers to move from one task to another. To maximize the benefit of job rotation, employees should transition to a new duty that requires an entirely different posture, such as sitting instead of standing.
  • Team assignments allow workers on the team to allocate different parts of the whole task as needed. They can alternate operations among team members, to vary posture and responsibility.
  • Job enlargement means that employees are assigned a more diverse set of tasks. By increasing the variety of duties, workers are less likely to develop fatigue from maintaining one static posture.

Ultimately applying ergonomic principles to the workstation design and duty assignment of jobs that require standing will improve worker productivity. A reduction in fatigue and injury will allow workers to work more effectively and efficiently.

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