Ergonomics at work and home

Poor ergonomic habits can lead to pain and disability whether at work or home. Ergonomic risk factors to avoid include repetition, force, awkward posture, static posture, contact stress, compression, and vibrations. A good ergonomics program has been shown to always be successful if the elements listed are included.

Ergonomic risk factors for MSDs (office syndrome)

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker to reduce risk factors for pain and injury.   

When the requirements of a job exceed the capacity of the worker, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) can occur. 

People who spend a lot of time driving, social networking, or gaming can also minimize risk factors for the development of musculoskeletal pain and disorders (MSDs).

Bad ergonomics increases risk of MSDs

MSDs include conditions such as back pain, neck and shoulder pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Pressure sores, prostatitis, sciatica, hemorrhoids,  vaginal pain or DVTs can occur when seated for long periods of time.  People can reduce risk factors for pressure-related problems by standing up at least once each hour.

Example of bad and good ergonomic posture
Illustration of person sitting in bad and good ergonomic position.

How big of a problem are MSDs?

MSDs can cause people to be unable to perform even the simple tasks of everyday living.  

“Back pain accounts for about one-fourth of Workers’ Compensation claims in the United States.”   

American Journal of Industrial Medicine

Back pain is the second most common cause of missed workdays due to illness and the most common cause of disability.  

There are over 200,000 procedures performed annually for carpel tunnel syndrome.

Illustration of Pain in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
illustration of pain in carpal tunnel syndrome

Risk factors for developing MSDs:

  • Repetition – repeating the same movement over and over, such as frequently leaning forward or using your thumbs to send text messages on your phone;
  • Force – typing or gaming too hard;
  • Awkward posture – sitting in a position that does not maintain the natural curve of your spine, such as leaning forward on a flat seat surface;
  • Static posture – sitting in the same position without standing up at least every hour;
  • Contact stress – resting your wrists on the edge of a desk while you are using your keyboard or social networking; 
  • Compression – allowing your  legs to dangle (not placed firmly on the floor) can cause varicose veins, increase the likelihood of a DVT, or compress the sciatic nerve causing leg pain known as sciatica;
  • Vibrations – can increase the likelihood of developing musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome, especially in driving workers;
ergonomic risk factors for driving workers
Driving workers experience additional risk factor of full body vibrations

Decrease MSDs with an ergonomics program

There have been ergonomic “success stories” throughout industry in preventing MSDs.  

For example, the State of Wisconsin with 70,000 employees reduced work-related MSDs or WMSD costs by 51 percent in the first two years after the start of an ergonomics program and 75 percent after three years.  

An ergonomics program with the following elements is always successful:

  • Management leadership and employee participation;
  • Hazard identification and information;
  • Job hazard analysis and control ;
  • Employee training;
  • Medical management and program evaluation;

Ergonomics program should incorporate:

  • Rest breaks, 
  • Reduction of repetitive movements, and 
  • Simple low-cost modifications to the workstation including “Quick Fix” ergonomic solutions.
OSHA's Ergonomic Standard
Ergosoft Break Reminder Software and OSHA’s Ergonomic Standard – OSHA 3125 PDF

What are low cost “quick fix” ergonomic solutions?

A quick fix can be as simple as changing the height of a chair to allow for proper hand posture.  

Items that are very useful and cost effective and are considered part of a “quick fix” solution are:

  • Height adjustable chairs; 
  • Instructions on ergonomics; 
  • Document holders; 
  • Glare screens;
  • Wrist rests; 
  • Foot rests; and 
  • Ergonomic seating cushions.
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Author: Melanie Loomos

I was a court reporter for 10 years then became an inventor. I invented The Buttpillow™ and was granted a patent called the "Pillow with Cantilever Supports." At the same time, I also submitted a patent for "The Carpal Tunnel Chair," which I was advised I did not get. After R&D on The Buttpillow™, the patent for the "Ergonomic Seating Cushion" was filed and later amended to include an embodiment for women during pregnancy. The USPTO granted the "Ergonomic Seating Cushion" patent in late 2002. Subsequently, in 2003, I also invented Ergosoft™ break reminder software to remind people to take breaks with an Ergo-Tip™ so people can identify and minimize ergonomic risk factors around them.

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