Investing in Ergonomics

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With a sharp rise in office-related chronic neck and back pain, the role of ergonomics has taken centre stage in recent years. This is especially so in Singapore, where it has been found that such work-related musculoskeletal disorders and other problems cost our country $3.5 billion a year. Even outside of Singapore, the 2012 Global Medical Trends study ranked musculoskeletal/Back condition as the 5th in the Global Top Conditions that cause the highest prevalence of medical claims. A deeper look at this data revealed that this was often caused by ordinary daily work activities such as sitting in an office chair for a prolonged period of time.

In today’s market, there exists a wide range of products marketed, described and sold as ‘ergonomically-designed’. For the office, the familiar ones include desks, chairs, and even computer keyboards and mice. The price tags attached to these products are typically hefty, but many companies see value in investing in these products for the welfare of their employees. Why, then, do our bodies still ache?

Ergonomics may be a word that many have heard of, but few can clearly define. In this article, we will be diving into what ergonomics is, what it does and how its suppose to help us with our office-related pains.

What Exactly is Ergonomics

According to the International Ergonomics Association (IEA), ergonomics, also known as human factors, is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. In this respect, it is the word ‘human’ is key in our understanding of what ergonomics is.

The Problem

We often seek to get a product that is designed for us and tailored to our needs. In Asia, due to the lack of data, ergonomic product designers do not have the data needed to manufacture products for the Asian market. As a result, it is not uncommon to find a large number of female office workers dangling their ankles off their ‘ergonomically-designed’ chairs, due to the chairs being too large for them. If they try to reach the floor, they will find themselves sitting at the edge of their chairs, without the support of the back-rest. This then defeats the whole purpose of the ergonomic chair, and is the reason why our bodies ache as much as before.

As a large proportion of ergonomic products are designed based on European or US-based data, and are thus usually better suited for people of larger and taller builds.

The Solutions

While getting custom-built furniture is an option, it is often too expensive for most companies. Another alternative is to ensure that the ergonomic furniture bought is adjustable with enough range to accommodate smaller builds, such as the HAG Capisco – a fully adjustable chair specifically designed to keep your body in its best posture throughout the day. Otherwise, improvisation could save the day. For example, adding a small stool beneath your feet to prevent them from dangling can help you to sit back and enjoy the back-rest comfortably.

It is also important to point out that while ergonomically designed furniture is made to support us, it should never be the only thing we rely on for our body’s health. Supporting furniture, no matter how well designed, is only ever support and should not replace exercise. Just because that chair feels so comfortable, office workers should be mindful to not neglect standing up, stretching and doing exercises at their desk in between their long hours of being seated in the office.