Office Ergonomics: A Generic Solution Doesn't Work

Office Ergonomics: A Generic Solution Doesn't Work

Many employers and workers explore ways to reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries in the office workspace. Whether reacting to injuries, pain, discomfort, etc. or proactively trying to prevent these consequences from developing, commendable efforts for the safety of workers occur. These adaptations to office workstations can include internal resources or external 3rd party office ergonomics providers who far too often apply "cookie-cutter" office ergonomic solutions.

This generic “one size fits all” approach is often recognizable by a generic graphic with a series of descriptions indicating an ergonomically safe workstation. These outline the predetermined positions of various office workstation items and the worker. They attempt to make your personal workstation look like the stock picture and/or descriptions thus making it safe.

Unfortunately, the standard office workstation set-up for worker protection is a myth. It is simple, quick and easy with some workers experiencing benefits or improvements for certain aspects. However, not all workers and their concerns are appropriately looked after with this generic solution. Ask two simple questions:

  1. Are all office jobs the same?
  2. Are all office workers the same?

The answers are  "no" on both accounts. Yet “cookie-cutter” office ergonomics assumes they are the same by outlining a single set of requirements. This series of inflexible “rules” cannot and will not help all workers because of variety and variation between each job and each worker. So please stop inflicting generic office ergonomics on workers.

To optimize office ergonomics, we need to apply a more comprehensive approach to worker protection. Ergonomists often on “fitting the job to the worker." Therefore applying ergonomics to office workspaces requires that information is gathered about the job and the worker. This investigation creates a more unique and customized means of reducing the risk of ergonomic injury.

Gathering job information should place particular emphasis on recognizing how each worker interacts with the workstation items. These interfaces create moments where ergonomic hazards must be identified, assessed and controlled. In the office workspace, this would primarily involve awkward postures, repetitive and/or sustained efforts and contact stress. Further, determine the intensity and exposure time (how often & how long) of these ergonomic hazards. This emphasizes exploring the fundamental “principles” of ergonomics rather than a generic set of "rules."

Gathering worker information should focus on unique characteristics of the worker. This primarily involves any injuries, pain or discomfort they may be experiencing. It can also include anthropometrics (body dimensions such as heights and distances), corrective eye lenses, typing style, ergonomic knowledge (general & workstation adjustments), experience, improvement opportunities, etc. All these represent unique considerations to help prioritize where to focus the ergonomic assessment and solutions.

Ultimately, the more optimal comprehensive approach to office ergonomics requires engagement and critical thinking rather than inflicting a “cookie-cutter” and “one size fits all” mentality. It explores what the nature of the physical interactions with the workstation items and considers the individual worker characteristics for protection of all workers. It does not inflict generic rules on everyone and every workstation. Does your workplace have this level of expertise and considerations in their internal office ergonomics safety resources? Do you ensure any external 3rd party providers apply the more optimal comprehensive approach and not the inappropriate “cookie-cutter” approach?

Jeff Benoit R.Kin., B.Sc., CRSP
Senior Consultant/Trainer
E.K. Gillin & Associates, Inc.
Stratford, Ontario