Are you sitting comfortably?

Technological advances have encouraged more people to sit at their desks. Becca Wilson looks at the challenges FMs in the region face when balancing a healthy working environment with cost and space

The word ‘ergonomics’ comes from two Greek words ‘ergo’ and ‘nomos’ meaning ‘laws of’ or ‘principles of’.

Office ergonomics applies science to workplace design to help increase employee productivity and reduce injury and illness associated with the workplace.

But it’s also important to remember that it is not solely concerned with offices, it looks at all interaction between the human being and their working environment.

“In simple terms, ergonomics is all about designing work and workstations for efficient and effective human use,” says Dr John Schneider, specialist in occupational medicine at the Department of Community Medicine, UAE University.

So why do FMs need to know about it and how can it help reduce costs and increase productivity?

Currently, this new term being introduced to the FM market in the Middle East has no laws to govern it.

But this doesn’t and shouldn’t mean FMs and businesses ignore it.

The alternative to complying with legislation is best practice.

 BEST PRACTICE“In this situation the work practices are developed from the best available for the specific requirements of the business, audited and usually benchmarked against another organisation with a proven record,” explains Dr Schneider.

The people who have seen the importance of ergonomics are companies who specialise in manufacturing products that promote health, comfort and productivity in the workplace.

Charles van Schallwyk who carries out independent ergonomic consultancy work for office furniture manufacturer Kinnarps, explains: “Ergonomics optimises the interaction between user, the equipment and the task in order to optimise productivity and efficiency and maximise the safety, health and well being of the worker.”

Ergonomics doesn’t just refer to the employees immediate equipment they use, there is a whole range of things in the working environment that can help employees feel more comfortable.

Take office lighting as an example.

Bad lighting can result in eye strain and headaches so it’s sensible to use task lights and wall lighting used behind computers to help eliminate these problems.

Another area to consider is acoustics.

The ideal solution aims to provide adequate privacy, promote effective communication, prevent conversational and noise distraction and promote productivity.

This is a huge challenge but if dealt with correctly, it can have a positive impact on a business.

Also, workspace/place planning is essential.

There’s no point investing in a correct workstation if it’s going to be positioned in the wrong light or in a cramped space.

Cathy Beasley, CitySpace, says that FMs need to consider their company’s unique work-style, corporate culture, work process and ways of working – teamwork versus individual work, communication and collaboration and office-based work or the option to work from home or a remote location.Cutting costsShe argues that achieving the right balance between hierarchy and privacy is the main challenge FMs face.

Employee health and safety is important.

Poorly designed workstations and workplaces increase the risk of muscoskeletal disorders such as back pain, repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (all three, and more, often fall under the term Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD)).

These disorders can have a serious financial impact on companies and could cost them thousands of dollars every year in productivity loss and legal claims.

Even though there is no law governing this advancement in employee well being or direct research in the Middle East to support this claim, research in the US has shown that:

- For every dollar invested in an ergonomic intervention strategy (for example, RSI prevention) in an office environment, there is a return of $17.50 (Source: Buckle 1999);

- $20 billion a year is spent annually on workers compensation costs associated with cumulative trauma disorder

(Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 1997-2000 statistics).

So even though from an FMs point of view purchasing ergonomic equipment can be a more expensive option, spending a little more on employee welfare in the long term could not only see increased productivity but increased profits as well – surely this is something worth considering?The benefitsSeeing an increased return on investment is one way of encouraging businesses to comply with best practice and start thinking about the well being of their staff.

But there are more benefits to using ergonomic equipment and they can appear in many different forms:

- Productivity and Quality.

Employees who are happy and comfortable at work are more likely to work better.

Research carried out by Walter F Steward (Journal of the American Medical Association) concluded that the average amount of hours lost a week through people not being comfortable at work was 5.2 per employee.

That’s just over 270 hours a year, a loss of nearly seven weeks work!

- Health and Safety.

Using equipment and work arrangements designed to improve posture and ease the load of the body can help reduce illness.

This is turn can reduce absenteeism and minimise the need to train or re-train staff.

- Job Satisfaction.

A happy employee will work better and harder, this will have a positive impact on the business in terms of employee relations and will reduce errors and time wasting.

- Reputation.

Being seen as an employer that looks after the well being of its employees is crucial when introducing and retaining staff.

Humanscale vice president, Tom Revelle believes that “FMs are looking for the maximum flexibility in the use of space and equipment while having to consider how they can best support their workers, who come in all shapes and sizes.”

With a steady increase in an employee’s expectations and standards of acceptance (this is set to rise as the Middle East continues to develop), it is worth noting their unique requirements and try to accommodate them as much as possible.

In doing so, your business is set to reap the benefits of a more contented workforce.

Can ergonomics help increase employee productivity?
“Most definitely! The increase in health, safety and well being due to the good ergonomic environment will positively affect productivity and efficiency.

This is achieved through the decrease in absenteeism, the reduction in errors, reduction in time wastage and more lean productivity.”

Charles van schallwyk, an independent ergonomic consultant to Kinnarps office furniture manufacturer.

“Ergonomic design considerations have been shown to influence employee recruitment and retention.

A major incentive to purchase ergonomic equipment and to design ergonomic environments is the improved performance and well-being of staff.”

Cathy beasley, cityspace llc

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