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7 Fundamental Ergonomic Principles for Enhanced Work Performance

21 November 2023

If you are a working professional, you would have heard the term "ergonomics."

After all, that's what all workplaces intend to focus on.

However, do you have a thorough understanding of fundamental ergonomic principles?

Your response would likely be yes.

Any working professional would know that the idea of ergonomics revolves around ensuring the workplace's safety, reducing the risk of stress on employees' bodies and reducing the risk of injuries. However, it is just a fundamental understanding of the concept. At a deeper level, ergonomics is all about ensuring the safety of employees by identifying potential risk factors that can contribute to health concerns ranging from soft tissue injuries to more severe problems such as musculoskeletal injuries and disorders.

If you are a novice at understanding ergonomics, here's a guide that features seven fundamental ergonomic principles. Understanding these principles will help you identify ergonomic risk factors, enabling you to maintain your health and well-being while working.

#1. Maintain a Neutral Body Posture

Most working professionals are often aware of the significance of maintaining appropriate posture. It is one of the most emphasized aspects of the workplace, especially for employees with desk jobs. And while taking care of your posture is critical if you have a desk job, it is equally important for every other job, including jobs that require prolonged standing.

Hence, the first fundamental ergonomic principle you should know about is maintaining a neutral posture. But what is a neutral body posture? It is a posture that allows you to naturally keep your body aligned and balanced regardless of your position. The idea is to reduce the stress on your body by keeping your joints aligned, whether sitting or standing.

By maintaining a neutral body position, you can minimize the stress that your position may place on your joints, muscles, tendons and even nerves. Hence, maintaining a neutral body position allows you to be most productive.

And while it's important to know about neutral body position, you should also be aware of the opposite of a neutral posture which is an "awkward posture."

Awkward posture puts more stress on your musculoskeletal system and is a significant risk factor contributing to musculoskeletal concerns. Common musculoskeletal concerns include arthritis, spinal disc bulge and spinal stenosis. Here are a few tips to help you maintain neutral postures for your elbow, wrist, shoulders and back.

Maintain a straight position for your wrist while avoiding too much flexion or extension. The principle applies to both desk jobs as well as to the jobs that require gripping an object like a machine,

Ensure that your elbow makes a right angle with your upper and lower arms,

Sit in a position that helps you maintain the natural "s" shape of your spine, and

Stand with your back straight and avoid bending forward to lift objects from the ground; instead, bend your knees to accomplish your objective.

#2. Work in Your Ergonomic Working Zone

The other fundamental ergonomic principle is working in your ergonomic work zone.

The idea of an ergonomic work zone involves splitting your workplace into critical areas that help you maximize your comfort and productivity. By splitting your workspace into three areas, namely the primary work zone, secondary work zone and non-working zone, you can figure out a suitable spot for everything on your desk. As a result, you don't have to stretch yourself of your workplace essentials such as your documents, headphones or cables. Hence, you can maintain a comfortable position at your desk while reducing the risk of developing musculoskeletal conditions.

#3. Allow for Movement

Ergonomic principles may revolve around the idea of enhancing workplace productivity and how the primary objective is to enhance productivity by ensuring minimal stress on the body. And since the human body is designed to move, the basic ergonomic principles cannot disregard this fundamental principle of the human body's design.

Staying in the same position, whether sitting or standing, can cause the body to fatigue, a condition ergonomically known as static load. Some examples of static load include keeping your hands raised over your head for over 30 minutes or standing or sitting in the same position for over 2 hours. Though the initial few minutes in a static position won't hurt you, the cumulative effect of persistently being in a stressful position over time leads to discomfort and fatigue.

Hence, you should ensure that you allow your body to some movements. While working, make sure you switch your position every few minutes while giving yourself breaks for stretching. When you stretch your fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders and back, it helps reduce fatigue, improve muscular balance and muscle coordination, and improve your posture.

Moreover, you can incorporate short walks if your working environment requires you to sit for prolonged hours.

#4. Minimize Force

Excessive force is another primary ergonomic risk factor, as several work environments require heavy force load on the body. When your job requires a heavy force load, doing such jobs result in increased muscle activity which contributes positively to increasing fatigue and risk of musculoskeletal disorders.

Several conditions affect force, but the idea is to identify when a job requires the use of excessive force. And once you identify the source, you need to figure out a way to reduce that force.

By managing excessive force and reducing it, you can minimize your fatigue risk and more serious musculoskeletal concerns. Instead of manually dealing with force, you can invest in mechanical assistance and powered equipment that can help reduce muscle exertion and work effort.

#5. Reduce Excessive Repetitive Motions

Another fundamental ergonomic principle that you should keep in mind to enhance your workplace productivity is reducing excessive repetitive motion. Several tasks at work require repetitive motion, which is heavily influenced by daily targets and work processes. Tasks that require repetitive motion, combined with other risk factors such as awkward posture and excessive use of force, can significantly contribute to many health conditions, including musculoskeletal disorders.

Hence you should ensure that you reduce the frequency of tasks that involve excessive repetitive motion. If reducing the frequency of repetitive tasks is not possible, eliminate other possible risk factors, such as awkward postures and excessive force requirements.

#6. Focus on Reducing Contact Stress

Does your job require you to be in close contact with a particular surface?

Does it involve continuous rubbing against sharp or hard objects?

If yes, you need to focus on reducing your contact with a particular surface or object as it may contribute to an increased risk of contact stress. This workplace condition can damage the soft tissues of your fingers, palms, toes and feet.

By creating localized pressure on a small body area, contact stress can inhibit blood flow, damage nerve function, and even affect the movement of your muscles and tendons.

If your job is leading to contact stress, you need to take measures to reduce its negative implications. Some measures include taking regular breaks and stretching your fingers, hands and feet to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of nerve, muscle and tendon damage.

#7. Provide Adequate Lighting

Poor lighting is a common problem in several workplace settings. Inappropriate lighting at the workplace can affect an employee's workplace comfort and performance. Too much or too less of lighting can make working challenging and contribute to health conditions such as eye fatigue and headaches.

A simple solution to this ergonomic concern lies in the fundamental ergonomic principle of providing adequate lighting in the workplace. Ensure that your workplace provides well-lit working conditions regardless of your job type. Your organization should take measures to provide appropriate lighting by investing in overhead and task lighting. At the workstation investing in desk lamps makes the right choice as it helps control screen glare and ensure that the workstation is well-lit. Moreover, you can also ensure that your computer's screen is not placed directly in front of the window or bright background, as it serves as a measure to manage glare.

Final Words

Understanding the fundamental ergonomic principles is essential; however, it doesn't have to be complicated. While most of the ergonomic principles discussed in this post may seem common sense and practical enough to be implemented in every workplace, applying these principles is a challenge for many employers.

Hence, the solution lies in a better understanding of these principles by every stakeholder in the workplace environment, including the employees. By knowing and understanding the fundamental ergonomic principles, you can help your organization identify potential risk factors that often go unnoticed and improve on these risk factors so you can enhance your work performance and the output generated by your organization.

To find out more about ergonomic workplace furniture and equipment, get in touch with FlexiSpot today.