To Err is Human, To Ergo, Divine

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Imagine this… it’s noon and you realize you have been sitting on your sofa, slumped over your laptop for several hours. You have been so busy working on a priority project that you haven’t gotten up even once. No time for lunch, you hop on a call with your team that ends up lasting several hours. Once that ends, you get right back to work on your computer. You finally notice that it’s dark and think it might be time to turn on a light or two. A bit later, you realize you are starving, your back hurts and your eyes are tired, but it’s all okay because you had a productive day, right?

Productive days are great, but the scene I described has some serious problems. Poor posture, no movement, zero breaks or nutrition, combined with limited lighting are a recipe for fatigue and injury.

Although we are beginning to hear conversation around “reopening the economy,” many of us will still continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. Further, many businesses are discovering that remote work is actually more productive and cost effective and are exploring expanding these practices. While it is likely that we are getting better at managing time and technology, we may not have given any thought to how we (or our employees) are actually physically “doing” the work. The principles of fitting a job to a person is known as “ergonomics.”

Let’s begin by considering why this is so important. Safety expert Dana Bailey says, “Good body positioning is fundamental to good health. In addition to being more productive, it allows us to have better circulation, more effective musculoskeletal (this includes muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons)functioning and higher mental acumen.” In the simplest of terms, a scrunchy body leads to a scrunchy mind.

Poor ergonomics doesn’t just have a human cost, but a steep financial one, as well. Research done by OSHA tells us that work-related injuries are costly, to the tune of almost $50 billion annually. Employees that work from home are still covered by a company’s workers comp policy, so having them work safely should be a top priority.

Decades of study has found that these injuries are overwhelmingly preventable, so what can we do to help ourselves and our employees?

  1. Position your workspace and your body properly. Ms. Bailey reminds us to find a chair that allows us to sit comfortably and if possible, elevate your workstation (with a box, books, or other household items) so you can stand regularly. When you must sit, a neutral spine and wrists are key, so you don’t cause any strain.
  2. Take breaks and move regularly. In the office you likely get up periodically to go to the printer or to talk with colleagues. Working from home, you might find yourself in one spot for extended periods of time. Both your body and eyes need breaks, so step outside for some fresh air, do some gentle stretching, or take a short walk.
  3. Insure you have proper lighting. Dim lighting leads to eye fatigue, so find lighting that illuminates the task you have at hand (bonus: you look better on video calls with good lighting). Whether you move a lamp to your workspace or just open the shades a bit wider than usual, your eyes will thank you.
  4. Bring the work to you. This was actually one of the first things I learned from Ms. Bailey about ergonomics and truthfully, the one I use most often. Don’t extend your body to the task, bring the task to your body. Need to get a ream of paper from a high shelf for the printer? Get a step stool or small ladder. The team wants to talk about the book you have that’s on the shelf behind you? Stand up, turn around and get it. Don’t reach behind you and twist your body, trying to grasp it. Remember that one of the worst things you can do is fully extend your arms and reach for something.

While we have applied these principles to work, keep in mind they are important in whatever tasks you do. Anytime we use our physicality, whether it be cooking, cleaning, hobbies or even playing with pets and children, we want to do it safely.

Although aging is natural, strains and repetitive use injuries don’t have to be. Our bodies are meant to last a lifetime. Let’s treat them well.