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How to implement an ergonomics strategy

Workplace-related injuries are on the rise, according to HSE statistics. Jeremy Hodges, director at Sygnus Office Partnership, explains how facilities managers can tackle the issue head-on.


24 February 2015


According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the total number of working days lost owing to work-related ill health and workplace injuries has fallen from around 39.8 million in 2000-02 to 28.2 million in 2013/14. 


The HSE also says that on average, each person suffering took around 16 days off work, 19 days for ill-health cases and 7.5 days for injuries. 


Stress, depression or anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) accounted for most days lost owing to work-related ill health, 11.3 million and 8.3 million days respectively. 


MSD describes any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back. One of the key legal responsibilities for employers is to protect the health and safety of their employees and other people who might be affected by what they do, as required by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.


Workplace trends

There has been much conversation in the FM industry recently about standing versus sitting at work, which promises the dual benefits of a reduction in injuries, a more active and productive workforce. 


Furthermore, FMs have long had to deal with cases of employees or colleagues being off sick with neck and shoulder pains and muscle problems attributed solely or partly to poor posture and poor sitting habits at work. 


With the average UK full-time worker working 39.1 hours a week, what we do and how we act in the workplace can have a significant influence on our physical health and wellbeing.


FMs can be proactive and help to combat the problem. The following checklist explores some of the options, mainly from a furniture and workplace layout viewpoint, but always consult an expert and seek professional advice before embarking on implementing any policies or carrying out any training or checks.


statistics


Ergonomic checklist

  • Is your office furniture fit for purpose? Do the chairs provided for staff in the office have back support, are they height-adjustable, do they have arm rests? Are your desks at the right height to avoid over-stretching? Do staff need foot rests?
  • Do you regularly carry out ergonomic assessments of your furniture and its condition and to ensure that it is fit for purpose and fit for the user and whatever work they are to be carrying out?
  • Is the office space well laid out or is it cluttered with poor storage that could lead to potential trip hazards or climbing on things to reach? Is there sufficient daylight?
  • Do you implement regular training in the workplace, such as manual handling techniques and posture at work?
  • Do you keep a note of employee absenteeism with records so you can assess if there is an MSD-related problem within your workplace?
  • Do you offer other schemes within the workplace to improve health and wellbeing, such as gym memberships, physiotherapy sessions, walk-to-work schemes, free health checks?

 


Selecting furniture

Ensuring workers are fit and healthy can come down to simple ergonomics and the provision of appropriate office furniture. 


There are chairs on the market that have a number of separate ergonomic features including seat depth adjustment, individual seat and back tilt and inflatable lumbar support. Such chairs are designed to reduce the risk of back problems and fit the natural spinal curve, helping the user to adapt it to support his ideal working position.


Ergonomic furniture doesn’t have to be expensive. Neither does the implementation of policies or training if done with expert guidance. Weighing up the cost of new furniture and training could be a drop in the ocean compared with absent staff.


FMs should always seek expert help from occupational health specialists, office furniture manufacturers and the HSE


Jeremy Hodges is director at Syngus Office Partnership