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Do you ever notice how you sit at your desk? Are you sitting on your chair with your back crooked and totally uncomfortable … tension, back pain or headaches are not uncommon for you when you leave your workplace after eight hours? Then it is possible your working environment is not ergonomic and has a negative effect on your health.

What does ergonomics mean?

To work ergonomically means ‘to work (or to be able to work) in such a way that optimal results are achieved and the person remains healthy, fit, efficient and fatigue-free‘ [1].

Which functions does ergonomics have?

  • Adaptation of working conditions to the needs of employees [1]
  • Individual protection of health and psyche [1]
  • Personality development incl. room for action and opportunities for further training [1]
Is this chair really comfortable and ergonomic?

Ergonomically designed workplaces are only considered to be workplaces when there is no longer any danger to health and adequate work is possible [1]. For example, an incorrect posture leads to spinal discomfort, tension, headaches, numbness in the arms or legs. The decisive factor is the duration of the strain. Static work processes can cause discomfort without physical compensation (interrupted sitting times or movements) [1].

These are often amplified by stress and other influences such as unfavourable lighting, excessive noise levels or a stuffy room [1]. Against it, restful sleep, the social environment, nutrition and hobbies contribute to healthy and ergonomic behaviour at the workplace and to the reduction of overloads and damage [1].

5-pillar concept according to Just

Just (2011) describes a concept that he calls the 5-pillar concept. According to this, the factors of ratio and behavioural ergonomics, self-management, freedom from complaints and nutrition lead to increased performance and well-being [1].

Ratio ergonomics

Ratio ergonomics should reduce work-related stress through appropriate measures and take into account working conditions and the ergonomic working environment, i.e. work equipment, air, noise and lighting conditions [1]. For example, inadequate lighting leads to premature fatigue, headaches and eye aches, an increased frequency of errors and a higher risk of accidents [2].

Ergonomically, the light source would be positioned parallel to the window [3], radiating against a wall and, in the case of right-handed users, radiating from the left – in the case of left-handed users, from the right – or from the front onto the work surface. Indirect lighting should not flicker or dazzle and avoid shadows [2].

The working area itself should also be of adequate size, bright and equipped with natural light sources. If the chair and table cannot be adjusted individually, footrests can help make sitting more ergonomic [4]. In the best case, the height of the desk can be adjusted so that work can also be carried out standing up.

Ergonomics at workplace (Source: Robins Air Force Base)

But be careful! Standing too long can also have health effects [5]: Varicose veins, back pain, tension or headaches can also be the result [3]. On the other hand, dynamic workplaces, i.e. alternately sitting and standing activities, stimulate the concentration of oxygen through increased blood flow and the increased uptake of oxygen [3].

Behavioural ergonomics

Whether through exercise, nutrition or relaxation, behavioural ergonomics – as the name suggests – refers to individual behaviour and its change towards ergonomic working behaviour [1]. Correctly executed movements, no matter whether sitting, standing or lying down, are the most important in order not to overload the body and thus harm it in the long term [1]. For example, a non-rotated, actively upright and symmetrical posture characterizes typical, intended positions of a treating dentist.

Work in the office or at a reception desk is optimised by an appropriate sitting position at the desk and correct lifting and carrying movements. According to studies by some health insurance companies, a non-ergonomic posture leads to the widespread disease no. 1: Back pain [3]. Office workers in particular sit for about eleven hours a day. Without sufficient exercise or appropriate compensation, the probability of occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders increases, resulting in an immensely high number of days absent [3].


What can you do concretely?

Self management

Create structure by approaching your tasks in a concrete, meaningful and goal-oriented way. Reflect on what triggers stress or pressure in you and develop strategies that help you to deal with it better [1].

Nutrition

Do not put yourself under pressure by believing that a balanced diet is the ultimate and helps against everything. Of course a healthy diet will not harm you, but sometimes it has to be a chocolate bar to reduce stress [1]!

Freedom from complaint

Do not rest on the measures of your company, but become active yourself in order to alleviate potential pain or to counter it preventively. Fitness exercises and relaxation methods (progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobsen (PMR), meditation or yoga) help to maintain or restore your ability to work and freedom from pain [1].

Identification of stressors through CompanyMood

We will be happy to assist you in recording work-related loads. Use CompanyMood to assess mental risks and identify stress factors in the workplace. Please also read our article on psychological risk assessment.

Sources

[1]  Just, M. (2011). Die Arbeit in der Zahnarztpraxis. Die 5 Säulen der Ergonomie. Prävention und Anwendung für das zahnärztliche Team (pp. 8–14). Herne: Zahnärztlicher Fach-Verlag.

[2] Dettmer, H., Blindow, W., Böhm, R., Czenskowsky, T., Degott, P., Dettmer, S., … Wehrheim, R. (2012). Personalintegration und -einsatz. In H. Dettmer, & T. Hausmann (Eds.), Organisations-/Personalmanagement und Arbeitsrecht (pp. 182–183). Hamburg: Verlag Handwerk und Technik.

[3] Kolthoff, J. F. (2019). Ergonomie am Arbeitsplatz: So sitzen Sie richtig. Retrieved from https://www.humanresourcesmanager.de/news/ergonomie-am-arbeitsplatz-so-sitzen-sie-richtig.html

[4] Wittig-Goetz, U. (2018). Ergonomie und Gesundheit. Retrieved from https://www.ergo-online.de/ergonomie-und-gesundheit/arbeitsplatzgestaltung/mobiliar/artikel/stehen-und-sitzen/fussstuetzen-an-sitzarbeitsplaetzen/

[5] Backé, E. M., Kreis, L., & Latza, U. (2019). Interventionen am Arbeitsplatz, die zur Veränderung des Sitzverhaltens anregen. Zentralblatt für Arbeitsmedizin, Arbeitsschutz und Ergonomie, 69, 1–10. Doi:10.1007/s40664-018-0284-7

Stephanie Wörz

Als Master-Psychologin mit dem Schwerpunkt der Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie bin ich im Bereich Business Development tätig. Ich stehe meinen Kollegen bei der Entwicklung von CompanyMood mit psychologischem Fachwissen zur Seite.

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