Almost any office worker will tell you – good ergonomics are essential to preventing back and neck pain. After all, if you’re sitting at a desk, staring at a screen for hours upon hours a day you need to make sure you’re sitting right… Right?
Office injuries are costing us big bucks
Over the last three decades as the number of us who spend our days sitting at a desk has grown, so has the ergonomics industry. Back and neck pain, carpal tunnel and a host of other ‘office injuries’ are a reality of office life and responsible employers are doing all that they can to protect their staff from them. Ergonomic adjustments are now viewed as an essential occupational health and safety measure for many companies.
But despite the millions of dollars businesses invest in ergonomic adjustments and equipment each year, office injuries still account for a large portion of WorkCover claims. In fact, between 2009/10 and 2013/14, 60% of all compensation claims recorded by SafeWork Australia were work-related musculoskeletal disorder claims, with more than half being back and shoulder injuries.
So, it begs the question – Are ergonomics really the magic bullet that Workplace Ergonomists suggest they are?
Are ergonomics really the key to preventing office injuries?
Recently there have been a handful of studies and experts come out and suggest that there is no evidence to support the claims that ergonomics do anything to prevent office injuries. ‘
'You can have pain associated with sitting, but it does not mean the way you sit caused it. The evidence… suggests ergonomic interventions are no more effective than non-ergonomic interventions. They have not reduced the burden of back and neck pain'. Peter O’Sullivan, Professor of Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy, Curtin University
‘The idea that a bad mouse, the wrong chair, or a poorly-adjusted desk can injure you may be dangerous. It promotes the idea there is a correct way to sit – that’s just rubbish. There is no correct way to sit. In our research we see people all the time who have been advised to sit up straight at their desk. This has just made their pain worse. As far as preventing musculoskeletal pain goes, I think that ergonomics is rubbish, I think it’s possibly dangerous'. Associate Professor James McAuley, a top back pain researcher who leads a pain research group at Neuroscience Research Australia.
‘Sitting is the new smoking’
Unless you’ve been sitting under a rock for the last few years, you’ve probably heard this phrase thrown about. And while it may seem extreme, the reality is there is a whole lot of truth to it. Our bodies simply aren’t meant to sit for long periods of time, even if we have them perfectly positioned.
At the end of the day, preventing office injuries comes down to common sense. Posture is important. You need to be comfortable. Ergonomic adjustments to your set up can help ensure you have good posture. Some people may find ergonomic equipment like sit and stand desks, special keyboards and ergo mouses help them to be more comfortable. But there is no one size fits all solution or magic bullet.
It takes more than just ergonomics
As an employer you can enhance your existing workplace health and safety policies and procedures by encouraging your people to get up and move about every twenty or thirty minutes. Complimenting ergonomic assessments and adjustments with specialist education and information about stretches and activities that can be done throughout the workday to prevent injury can also go along way.
When it comes to workstation setup, ideally your employees should have:
Monitor/s positioned so that they don’t need to twist their neck, tilt or arch their heads or backs.
Keyboard directly in front of them, ideally so that their elbows at at 90 or more degree angle – essentially the lower the keyboard the better.
An adjustable chair that allows them to adjust the seat height, tilt, lumbar support and backrest to suit them.
The space, support and encouragement to get up and move around regularly.