In today’s world, more and more people spend their work day behind a desk, in a chair, or otherwise seated for extended periods of time. According to a 2013 study published in U.S. News, 86% of employed Americans work in a sedentary environment, meaning they are required to sit for the majority of their day, typically seven to eight hours. With the COVID-19 pandemic and working from home becoming a staple of American life, many people are sitting more than ever- working from your home office means no daily ten-minute walking commute from the parking lot to the office or rushing up six flights of stairs to your cubicle. Shuffling to and from your kitchen to get a cup of coffee doesn’t have quite the same refreshing feel as walking a block to your local deli during your ten a.m. break.
Most people, especially those not working these inactive positions, may assume that working in an office is a low risk job. However, office jobs and others that require extended amounts of sitting and staying still actually possess their own unique set of health risks that workers must actively battle daily. It may not be as outwardly dangerous as say, a construction job, but those who spend the majority of their days behind a desk, staring at a computer screen, are still at risk for a different type of health problem later in life. But whether your job has you lifting heavy equipment or spending hours looking at spreadsheets, ergonomics can help you accurately assess the risks of your job and help you take active steps towards reducing those risks and maximizing your productivity.
What exactly are ergonomics? Put simply, ergonomics is the study of people in their working environment. The goal of an ergonomist is to eliminate discomfort and the risks of injuries in the workplace. Typically, this entails tailoring your work environment to your needs, instead of trying to fit yourself into an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous workplace. In order to make your environment comfortable and productive for you, first you must identify the risks that your particular job possesses.
According to the UNC Institution Integrity and Risk Management Team, there are three “Ergonomic Stressors” to take into consideration when assessing the risks of your job: the force required to complete a task, any awkward or static working positions adopted during the completion of a task, and the repetitiveness of a task. After analyzing these three factors, you can go forward actively and meaningfully reducing these risks in your job.
Let’s apply these three stressors to an office job. While there may not be much physical force behind completing your daily tasks, the sedentary environment you are stuck in definitely makes your working positions both static and repetitive. Case Western Reserve University contends that the most major short-term risks for desk jobs is suffering a mild musculoskeletal injury- typically in your back, shoulders and neck-as well as eye fatigue, while long-term risks include coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.
So, what can we do to combat these health risks? There are two answers: adapt and adopt. We use ergonomics to make sure we are adapting our work environment to fit our needs, and adopt healthy working habits that help battle the negative effects of our job. For example, it may be better to use a standing desk or an ergonomic chair.
There are tons of simple and effective strategies you can utilize to fight fatigue and avoid the dreaded “sitting sickness”. The most obvious being the following: make sure you are taking breaks! It is recommended to take a one to two minute break every 20-30 minutes- and that doesn’t mean just swivel your chair away from the computer. Make sure you are standing up, moving your legs, and even doing a few stretches. Been working on the same arduous task for an hour? Time to switch it up: work on something else, or take a longer- 5 to 10 minute- stretch break. This, coupled with good posture, can help eliminate the risks of back problems later in life. And those breaks aren’t just for muscles- use this time to fight eye fatigue and maintain your strong eyesight by focusing away from the computer screen.
And while breaks are important, be sure to also use ergonomics to help stay comfortable and safe while you work. The most simple way to do this brings us back to our ergonomics definition- make sure you are adapting your environment to fit your needs, not the other way around. Don’t be afraid to adjust your chair, headset, computer monitor, and desk to maximize your comfort. Your body will thank you later!
Hopefully, these simple ways of reducing your health risks will help you feel better and avoid dreading another day of a sore back, tired eyes, and overall fatigue. Remember- your workplace should be tailored to keep your healthy. Don’t be afraid to utilize these strategies and more. Happy working!