Case A: Ijeoma, or I-jay, as her friends fondly call her, has been the head of Human resources at her company for close to ten years now. She usually sits in front of her computer at her desk, responding to emails, organizing processes, and making sure things are running smoothly. She’s known to be a serious workaholic, bending over her computer for as much as 10 hours every day of the week, including Sundays, because of the high demands placed on her by her job. One day, she begins to feel pain in her neck and a tingling sensation in her arms, shoulders, and legs. After checking in with the doctor at the hospital, Ijeoma is diagnosed with cervical spondylosis and has to wear a cervical collar to work. The doctors say she is lucky because, ideally, it could have been something much worse.
Case B: Femi works at an oil and gas plant. His nickname is “Yokozuna.” Why? Because he can lift almost anything. He lifts anything from boxes to equipment and is largely touted for his strength and skill in that arena. When Femi is doing his usual lifting, he hears a loud snapping sound at his back accompanied by sudden pain. He quickly drops what he is lifting and is taken to the hospital where it is confirmed that he is having back pain and some spine problems due to all his repeated heavy lifting. Femi will have to relinquish his world title.
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What do Femi and Ijeoma have in common? They have musculoskeletal disorders caused by
overuse of muscles, repeated movements, and bad posture. There are many other disorders that can arise from these three features arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, sprain, and hernia. [i] One way to help prevent this is by implementing workplace ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and employment demands to the worker’s capability. [ii] It’s a multidisciplinary study that factors in appropriate physical, mental, and organizational processes to ensure that the workplace is fit for an individual. Improving ergonomics in the workplace has been proven to have multiple benefits like boosting productivity, reducing cost, improving quality, improving workplace satisfaction, and creating an overall safe and healthy workplace. [iii]
How can you improve your own workplace ergonomics in your own way?
In this new era of roles: remote, hybrid, and full-time, gone are the days when you leave everything to employers to fix for you. Now, you can create a working system that functions best for you!
- Design your work environment to suit your needs: If you use a laptop for extended periods of time, try to ensure that you have a desk and chair to work with. Adjust the laptop brightness and text size until it is comfortable for your eyes or use protective glasses so that it does not affect your eyes. If you’re more into manual work, try to make sure that when manual handling, you do not do pass yourself by carrying something that is too heavy for you. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, a man shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 25kg, while the safe lifting weight for a woman is no heavier than 16kg. These are broad guidelines, rather than safe limits for lifting, which can result in a low risk of injury. [iv]
- Maintain a great posture: good posture has been shown to improve workplace productivity. For example, when sitting at a computer, do the following:
- Ensure that the top of the monitor at eye level or just below
- Ensure that the monitor is roughly arm’s length away
- Establish minimal bend at wrists
- Use a laptop raise like a document holder
- Keep your back straight
- Use a backrest to support your lower back
- Don’t let the front of your seat press on the back of your knees
- Put your feet flat on the ground or rest on a footrest
- Assume 90 / 90 / 90-degree position at the hips, knees, and ankles.
- Elbows should be at 90- 120 degrees bend.
Although there is no ideal posture, when standing, try to ensure that you stand upright, avoid slouching or bending over for extended periods.
- Take regular breaks: Taking breaks and having some downtime is essential for reducing
stress, improving focus, increasing job satisfaction, increasing creativity and improving the overall relationships with your superiors in the workplace. [v] It is essential to be fully detached from work during breaks for this to work. Workaholics have a hard time disconnecting from work especially, but finding a way to detach from work during the allotted break periods will allow the brain to rest and be fully functional during work periods.
- Wear the appropriate gear: A workman has to be well aware of his tools of trade and have
them within reach. Having your work tools close by will enable you to do the best work you can. Personal protective equipment are essential tools to be worn in the workplace to help prevent work hazards. [vi] Knowing when to use it, how to use it, the limitations and the care of PPE’s can be invaluable in how you set up a healthy work environment for yourself and others.
- 5. Proper Eye Care: Maximising your eyes when using your computer can help to improve your
long-term productivity by decreasing the likelihood of getting eye diseases or straining your eyes. Try the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, look 20 feet (roughly 6 meters) away for 20 seconds. [vii] Depending on your occupation, wearing protective eyewear like safety glasses, googles, and eye guards when doing your work can help protect your eyes and improve your productivity at work. Eating a healthy diet rich in carotenoids like carrots, tomatoes, as well
as a diet rich in other nutrients like Vitamin A, C, E and omega 3 fatty acids, can help improve the health of your eyes overall. Stop rubbing your eyes to avoid damaging your cornea. Wearing protective eyewear like sunglasses also helps to protect the eyes from UV rays generally. Quit smoking to prevent retinal damage of your eyes. Going for routine eye checkups help nip eye
diseases in the bud, so try to routinely visit your Optometrist or Ophthalmologist.
- Change your style: Change your posture pattern when sitting or standing to ensure that you
don’t stay in a particular position for too long or adopt certain patterns repeatedly. Doing things like lifting heavy loads, twisting and turning at odd angles or bad posturing repeatedly for extended periods of time can cause strain to your muscles and when the muscles and tissues exceed their threshold for the repeated stress, it can lead to serious injuries. [viii] A study on work postures [ix] showed that flexing the neck for long periods was positively linked to neck and back pain. [x] Bending and twisting, as well as lifting heavy weights and making forceful movements are all related to low back pain. Moving from sitting upright, to standing, to
moving around at work can help prevent heart and musculoskeletal diseases. [xi] Fitting your workplace to suit your needs as a worker will go a long way in improving your longevity as well as your productivity. Small steps like this can help you take better care of yourself at work.
Please share ways that you have maximized your workplace for greater efficiency in the comments below. Don’t forget to like, share and comment.
By Dr Chinaza Ebere Eziaghighala
[ii] Bernard BP, editor. U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, Centers for Disease control and Prevention, National Institute
of Occupational Safety and Health. Musculoskeletal disorders and workplace
factors: a critical review of epidemiologic evidence for work-related
musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, upper extremity, and lower back. July
- DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-141. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-141/.
[v] Tork. (2018). Take back the lunch break survey findings. https://cdntorkprod.blob.core.windows.net/docs-c5/763/185763/original/tork-takes-back-survey.pdf
[viii] Kumar S. Theories of musculoskeletal injury causation. Ergonomics 2001; 44(1): 17–47
[x] Rocabado M, Iglarsh ZA. Musculoskeletal approach to maxillofacial pain. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1991.