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The Benefits of a Whole-Office Approach to Ergonomics

Tuesday, October 07, 2008
By Anne Kramer

Most people associate ergonomics with wrist rests, lumbar cushions, and carpal tunnel syndrome. But ergonomics is more than the science of injury prevention; it is the science of fitting tools to workers, and when ergonomics are applied to every level of office design, not only will injuries decrease, but productivity will dramatically increase. Using a top-down approach, ergonomics streamlines not only individual workers’ tasks, but also those of entire offices.

The first level of ergonomic planning comes into play with the selection of specific tools for each worker. More efficient tools make for more productive workers. Office tools should be selected based on the primary tasks of each employee.

  • Ergonomic keyboards reduce the amount of energy required to maintain the resting position. For employees who spend a significant amount of time typing, this energy saved translates into doing more work with the same effort.

  • Providing items like adjustable chairs, wrist rests, and document holders, promotes proper posture and body positioning. This reduces the stress on the body, so workers become fatigued less quickly and can maintain higher levels of productivity.

  • Ergonomic tools also reduce the number of workplace injuries, which in turn diminishes the number of workdays lost for medical issues.
Once the proper implements are in place, it is useful to analyze how each employee will use his or her individual workstation. The workstation can then be tailored to accommodate the tasks completed there.

  • Parts of the workstation can be set aside for specific tasks. Areas can be created for computer work, project completion, and paperwork.

  • Within each zone, frequently used items can be placed within easy reach. This reduces the time spent searching and reaching for frequently used items, and lessens injuries caused by excessive twisting and reaching.

  • Often-used files or supplies can be moved to a location where they can be easily accessed without bending or twisting the body. Heavy items can be placed in a place that promotes proper lifting.
The final layer of ergonomic planning is designing the layout of the whole office. This applies to the location of all workstations and offices. The main goal of the ergonomic office layout is to eliminate unnecessary travel and to streamline traffic patterns.

  • Employees with frequent face-to-face contact can be placed in close proximity to one another, so less time is spent wandering between cubicles.

  • Shared equipment, such as copiers or fax machines, is relocated to a central location, where all employees can quickly and easily access it.

  • Clear paths can be created, leading to key locations like break rooms or emergency exits.
When applied holistically in office planning, ergonomics can increase productivity at the whole-office and individual levels.

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