Ergonomics: What is it and Why does it Matter?


Do you still remember the first time you heard the word “ergonomics?” A lot of people would probably think that it is similar to ‘economics’ because they sound very similar! But they are two different words with very unrelated definitions. So what is ergonomics all about? Ergonomics is about understanding the interactions among humans and things or tools that they use frequently in a working environment so as to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. In other words, ergonomics is the study of people in their working environment or the study of work. Consequently, an ergonomist (this time it is similarly pronounced like an economist) is a person who designs the work to fit the employee, for the latter to work in an efficient manner, at the same time eliminating any discomfort or risk of injury due to work. They are constantly looking out for ways to improve and enhance the design of the things or tools that employees use so as to maximize their user experience. In other words, the worker is the first priority in analyzing a workstation and the goal of ergonomics is to fit the work to the employee not the employee to the work. Or to find developments in the things or tools employees use while working every single day. Companies should start realizing that their employees cannot be productive when they are uncomfortable or in pain with their setup etc., but with the right tools, starting from having an ergonomic chair,  ergonomics can help them feel better at work and be more productive, happier, and healthier.

Due to the pandemic, office ergonomics became the main concern of people who have a “work from home” setup.  Whether you are working remotely for a global company or working with your startup in a shared space in the Philippines, it’s absolutely important for you to make sure that you are equipped well with good ergonomics tools for you to have a proper sitting posture. Check out this article from BRIA Homes that might help you in achieving the most comfortable work-from-home setup– How to Set Up Your Home Office and 10 Things Your Home Office Needs.

As stationary jobs become more and more common, an uptrend on researching is being done about the effect that these types of occupations can have on people’s bodies. Imagine a person sitting on his office chair for more than 8 hours a day? Perhaps it might not be the accurate estimate of time spent sitting in front of desks because of this new setup, the line that separates work and home has become thinner or might even have gone erased. A lot of us probably are still not familiar with the concept of ergonomics, on how it can benefit our workstation,  office, or organization and eventually affect the areas of our life outside of work. This could relate to everything from the chairs people sit on the whole day to work, the desks they use, or their posture when typing is an element of ergonomics. Ergonomics pertains to at least four primary workplace situations– the things handled by workers, how workers move things, processes or functions performed, the environment or surrounding spaces in the workplace.

Why is Ergonomics Important?

Ergonomics is important because when you’re working and your body is stressed because of an awkward or uncomfortable posture, extreme or unstable temperature, or constant movement your musculoskeletal system is affected drastically. Your body may begin to experience some symptoms after long hours of staying in that position such as fatigue, discomfort, and muscle pain, which can be the first signs of a musculoskeletal disorder. Have you ever heard of musculoskeletal disorders? These are real conditions that could greatly affect your body’s muscles, tendons, and other nerves. MSDs can develop over time or can occur immediately due to overload or overfatigue.

In reality, the importance of ergonomics in the workplace has frequently been both overlooked and undervalued by owners, supervisors as well as employees themselves. Sometimes they shut off the idea of ergonomics immediately because they see it as an unnecessary cost. The management is so focused on how every peso is being spent and responding to the things that affect their business every day, that they may not think of ergonomics as important in the workplace or as an integral part of the annual budget of a company. Well, surprise, surprise! These companies are losing more or costing them more every year because of some serious workplace injuries!  That cost amounts to a lot of lost time and lost production for businesses and possibly unrecovered wages for those injured employees because people spend as much as almost half of their lives at work, an injury is most likely to be inevitable to happen within the workplace.

Are you tired of having muscle pain or sore back, tight shoulders, neck pain, and tension headache by the end of your day when you are just sitting down and typing? In this case, it is possible that you have poor ergonomics in your workstation. These painful body conditions are caused by our habits formed in our daily activities like staring at the computer, sitting in an uncomfortable position, or just slouching, holding the phone, or even just carrying groceries, in short habits that are barely noticeable that you’re doing wrong. These painful body conditions can be aided or prevented by integrating good ergonomic techniques into your daily routines and workplace.

Again, ergonomics is here to help you to fit your job to you and not the other way around. That job can be a job at work or at home. The good news is that since a lot of companies are now realizing the need for ergonomics, workplaces are getting safer. More so now that we are getting back again with the kind of face-to-face setup.

To sum it up, the top three reasons why ergonomics matters:

  1. It reduces compensations costs (insurance claims).
  2. It reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders.
  3. It makes workers happier, more comfortable, more productive, and less fatigued.

It reduces compensations costs (insurance claims).

We all know that the health and safety of workers and the usage of effective tools are key to a business’s success or failure. Each employee performs an integral and necessary function. When an employee’s well-being is at risk or their health is compromised, or when they are injured, any business will definitely suffer some loss one way or another. So what does it mean to reduce compensation costs? These are the employees’ compensation insurance coverage or costs that you pay when your employee incurred on-the-job accidents and injuries, it can be quite an expensive part of running a business. Because when your employee is injured, the most important thing to do is to get them medical attention as soon as possible to prevent any more costs. There are instances where you have to train replacement employees, adjust work schedules, and carry out corrective measures. At some point, you may lose your employees’ productivity and deal with lower employee morale and absenteeism. Because these injuries may result in lost time, for instance, time taken off for injury recovery, and hence will eventually result in lost production. And we all know that time is money in any industry, time is precious. When your best and top employees are not available to work, then your business is at an edge.

There is a study from the Norwegian State Institute that says muscular soreness is the second most common cause of absenteeism at work. They also discovered that if employees’ workstations will be improved, back-related absenteeism will be avoided. Work equipment modification can help the injured employee return to work as soon as possible and help prevent future similar injuries. The best way to minimize or even avoid at all any injury and illness in the workplace is to create a full safety and health education training program for your employees. These involve programs where your employees can have the training and opportunity they need in order to know how to avoid and prevent any unsafe or unhealthy working practices. Also, these programs are designed to help employees to reduce injury and illness, likewise increase productivity in the workplace.

Moreover, having poor ergonomics can be a large contributor to both sudden and gradual workplace injuries, you may not notice at first but you will soon know that it can affect your business drastically.  In contrast, aside from preventing injuries, good ergonomics could also be a big help for companies to save money and have a stronger workforce.

It reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders.

Again, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions that affect your body’s muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. MSDs can develop over time or can occur immediately due to overload or overfatigue. Office workers spend as much as nine (9) hours a day seated at their desks.  If that workstation isn’t designed ergonomically, then there is a big chance of developing a chronic injury such as neck or back pain and other body or muscle pain. Poor ergonomics can also lead to chronic repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) such as carpal tunnel, back, neck, or joint pain.  In fact, poor ergonomics is one of the most significant workplace risks faced by office workers. Aside from physical pain, there can be also potential negative health effects of remaining stationary for long periods throughout the day. Almost everyone working nowadays has experienced or currently experiencing back pain at some point, which is an awful reality for the employees who cannot of course work at their full potential.

It makes workers happier, more comfortable, more productive, and less fatigued.

Clearly, ergonomics isn’t just about physical pain; it’s an issue that can also affect not just both the employee and the organization as a whole, but as well as the personal life of the employee. It can harm far more than just an employee’s productivity. In a likely manner, at home, the employee that is absent due to his injury might be confined to a bed or couch while missing out on activities with friends and family.  Think about what kind of workplace culture will shape over time if your organization feels that they are missing out on aspects of their home life because of a workplace ergonomic injury.

In actuality, good ergonomics is both great for business and great for employees by including it as a vital system in the everyday life of employees. Probably in effect, the companies can minimize downtime and maximize efficiency. Because at the end of the day, when employers focus more on their employee’s health and wellness, rather than tolerating an unsafe and unhealthy workplace environment and practices in order to keep more money, everyone is expected to have the most comfortable and most productive staff, and thus, the most successful and profitable workplaces. The essence is that having good ergonomics in the workplace can ultimately help employees to avoid injuries at work and help them to be more efficient and productive. On top of that, you can promote a better safety culture, boost employee morale, and strengthen both company loyalty and a team mentality. In short, ergonomic planning results in business success. That’s a win-win for everyone.

Below are some suggestions to help you improve proper posture and ergonomics for your daily endeavors and to help you prevent the aforementioned injuries. Or you might want to check this article on where you can buy your much-needed office equipment– 5 Local Stores Where You Can Buy Decors and Furniture.

  1. Use a good ergonomic chair in the office or in your home. Keep your body in a comfortable position while sitting in an ergonomic chair. Sit up straight in your ergonomic chair. Keep your shoulders and hips in line vertically.
  2. Adjust your ergonomic chair to have your feet reach the floor, thighs horizontal, arms even with the height of the desk, and good lumbar support. Use a footrest as needed, and armrests should be adjustable to allow shoulders to relax. When typing, arms/wrists should not rest on armrests or wrist rests.
  3. Keep the monitor at eye level with good lighting.
  4. Observe the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, you should look at least 20 feet away from your computer screen for about 20 seconds, to reduce eye strain.
  5. Every after 30 minutes, get up from your ergonomic chair and do some stretching or walking to avoid poor posture for a long period of time.
  6. Your company or you can invest in sit-to-stand desks. This kind of desk helps the employees to smoothly move from sitting to standing without interrupting their work for a long period.
  7. As frequently mentioned above, you should really get an ergonomic chair. It’s a great solution to help employees feel great while working. You should seek out designs that provide adequate support for your lower back.

Written by Katherine Kaye Villafuerte