How Investing Initial Time in Employee Comfort and Safety Can Reduce Office
Think about how much movement happens at a desk – fingers flying
across the keyboard, reaching for a cup of coffee and bending to open
the file cabinet. Although these may seem like mundane motions with little
effect on your overall health, conditions such as nerve damage, back problems
and vision issues can arise from poorly arranged work stations.
Sedentary work stations can be a risk for employee health. Claims for
injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome began to rise in the mid-1990s
with the advent of computers in the workplace, caused in part by improper
work station setup.
“We saw an opportunity to reduce employee risk for injury with a
proactive approach to work station design and ergonomic equipment,”
said Vicky McGavack, executive director of employee health for Hoag Memorial
California is one of the only states that has an ergonomic Occupational
Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standard that requires employers to take
the appropriate steps to prevent repetitive motion injuries (RMIs)
1. Human resource departments can refer to state regulations when establishing
a program. However, going beyond the minimum standards and making accommodations
– within reason – can reduce company costs over the long-term
and improve job satisfaction
Taking the initial steps to reduce the harmful effects of repetitive and
sedentary work and communicating with employees on how to avoid injury
shows concern for employees and reduces risk over the long-term. Research
and practice – both at Hoag and other businesses – have found
the key to reducing risk is prevention. Besides initial physicals when
an employee is first hired, providing employees with education and adjustable
equipment for their work stations can improve job performance and productivity.
Even small adjustments can make drastic improvements to employee satisfaction
in the workplace, especially in the areas below.
Lighting is extremely important and oftentimes there is too much light
in an office setting. Ideally, the lighting should be designed to allow
employees to focus on tasks, prevent reflection on computer screens and
avoid harshness that might translate to headaches or eye strain from prolonged
exposure. According to McGavack, when building a work space, designers
have a tendency install lighting without regard to how it will reflect
on a work surface. If the lighting is not adjusted or work stations are
not spaced out to make appropriate use of the light in the room, people
might as well be wearing visors at their desk.
Taking time to sit down with a new employee, who has not yet acclimated
to the lighting, is the best chance to prevent future problems. Of workers
who experience headaches, about half miss one to three days of work a
month due to a headache, which costs companies $17 billion in absenteeism,
lost productivity and medical expenses
3. Evaluating each employee’s needs and vision, as well as adjusting
the placement of work stations can avoid these costs for companies.
Educate employees on how to set-up and adjust their keyboard, monitor
and chair. Another simple, preventative measure includes supplying ergonomic
wrist rests and headsets for those employees that spend long hours on
the telephone. More often than not, this initial time invested is sufficient
to provide an employee with an ideal work area. When current equipment
is not set up correctly, spending $300 to $400 on a different keyboard,
platform or chair is a much more cost-effective solution than spending
$20,000 on a workers’ compensation claim.
Activities such as typing and reaching across your desk are supposed to
be easy and within your range of movement. Making sure the tools and equipment
employees are using are working for, and not against, them is essential
to reducing office risk.
Special thanks to Hoag’s Vicky McGavack, Hoag Memorial Hospital
Presbyterian Executive Director of Employee Health.
Written by Leeann Garms