Ergonomically Designed Workstation Can Improve Productivity

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By Morris Jacobs

Security businesses are no different to any other business in that the people who work in them want to be treated well. If business owners wish to get the best out of their staff, they need to listen actively to staff concerns, express gratitude for a job well done and be willing to compromise when necessary. The positive momentum and enhanced morale engendered by kind and fair treatment lead directly to a more motivated and productive workforce.

However, too few business owners and managers realise that considerate treatment of workers is just part of the puzzle. The full picture needs to encompass physical factors as well as emotional. Nowhere in the security industry is this more prevalent than in the control room environment where workers spend long shifts sitting and watching computer screens. Providing an ergonomic environment can not only protect workers against injury, but also fuel productivity while reducing the number of workers compensation claims and days lost to injury.

According to findings published in 2014 around research led by the University of Sydney and conducted by an international team of researchers, lower back pain linked to workplace factors accounts for a third of all work-related disability worldwide. Lead author Professor Tim Driscoll, Sydney School of Public Health, said that lower back pain arising from ergonomic exposures at work is a major cause of disability, “The people most at risk were those aged 35 to 65 years.”

Published data shows that in Australia, back pain is the leading cause of work loss days, with 25 percent of sufferers in the 18 to 44 age group taking 10 or more days off per year, and costing Australia around $4.8 billion each year for health care. On any given day in Australia, one quarter of the population is suffering back pain, and nearly 80 percent of adult Australians will experience back pain some time during their lives.

In the study, disability arising from work was measured as disability adjusted life years (DALYs), calculated from a combination of years of life lost due to premature death and years of life lived with disability. “The calculations showed that in 2010 there were nearly 22 million DALYs worldwide caused by workplace-related low back pain,” Professor Driscoll said. “Lower back pain arising from ergonomic exposures at work is a major cause of disability worldwide,” Professor Driscoll said.

According to Peter Parker (no, not Spiderman), a Melbourne-based osteopath and expert in work-related injury, “Sitting as little as two hours continuously increases risk for:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • back and neck pain
  • repetitive stress injuries
  • pelvic floor dysfunction
  • hip and knee disorders

Furthermore, Parker states that there is a growing body of research which clearly identifies the negative impact of sitting for long periods. Cardiovascular issues, gut problems, musculoskeletal instability and poor breathing are all clearly defined and affected negatively by sitting. What is more, people who stand more throughout the day tend to burn 25 to 35 percent more calories in their days. This effect becomes even more pronounced in people who are overweight or obese. Parker explains, “When we sit, our breathing is shallow and confined more to the upper lungs. Our diaphragm, the huge muscle that sits between the lungs and gut, is compressed. This powerhouse region or solar plexus is extremely important and needs to move with softness and full amplitude to oxygenate the body.”

The incidence of conditions like Osgood-Schlatter disease (inflammation of the patellar ligament) and Sever’s disease (inflammation of the growth plate in the heel) has never been higher in society than it is right now. Parker believes this can be directly attributed to the tightness through the front of the hips that causes people to overarch their lower back and load the front of knees and backs of ankles. Maintaining the ability to squat, lunge, twist, pull and push without the epidemic of sitting is paramount to long-term health.

Beyond the extremely important and life-saving physical factors involved in workplace ergonomics, there are a number of other important factors to consider:

  1. Employees who are given ergonomic workstations feel cared about and are thus more engaged.

Providing employees with an ergonomic environment shows that employers take their health and wellbeing seriously, a message which has been strongly linked to increased productivity. According to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson, “The single highest driver of employee engagement is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing.”

When an employee is given ergonomic equipment to work with, employers effectively say to him or her, “How you feel matters to me; I want you to be happy and comfortable and I want to protect you from harm.” Some of the most famously successful companies in the world, notably Google, have mastered the creation of ergonomic and enriched workspaces in a bid to ensure that their employees have high morale and feel free to think creatively.

  1. Workers who are more comfortable have more energy and a higher working capacity.

Workers who are in pain often report feeling tired and drained, which makes them less able to work quickly and effectively. They must also take frequent breaks in order to stretch, walk around, or lie down in an attempt to reduce muscle strain and ease aches. Physical pain negatively impacts mental energy too; it is hard to feel inspired, solve problems, generate new ideas or focus one’s concentration when constantly distracted by physical discomfort.

  1. Workers with ergonomic equipment can work more quickly.

Ergonomic equipment often makes an employee’s work easier to do as it cuts down on repetitive motions and optimises posture. For example, computer monitors which are designed to reduce eye strain allow employees to focus on their screens for longer periods of time without developing headaches (and they can read more accurately). Desks that can be adjusted to the height of individual users not only keep monitors at the right height thereby reducing neck and upper back pain and strain, they also allow people to type without contributing to issues like carpal tunnel syndrome. The ability to alternate between sitting and standing also significantly decreases the myriad of negative side effects outlined earlier in this article. All of this leads to greater productivity and a higher quality of work.

  1. Employees using ergonomic equipment make fewer errors.

Not only do workers concentrate better when they are not being distracted by discomfort; in industries where workers must concentrate for long periods, ergonomic workstations often result in fewer mistakes being made.

When one adds up the various costs incurred by failing to invest in ergonomics, it quickly becomes clear that having ergonomic equipment is not a luxury, it is a necessity. If business owners are worried about the initial investment ergonomics require, they should think about the amount they might currently be paying in lost productivity, workers compensation claims or having to recruit and train new staff as a result of high staff turnover.

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