Basics: office ergonomics

When it comes to ergonomics, the main focus is ensuring the workplace, work equipment, work environment and work plans do not impact on a person’s performance, or if so, only in a positive way. The work situation must adapt to human needs, not the other way around. It is therefore a matter of the proverbial workplace wellbeing, at both a physical and mental level.

But we’re still a long way off it, which is all the more astonishing because, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO), German businesses forego 36% of the output potentially achievable at office workplaces simply because desks, chairs or screens are not ergonomically set up. When we consider that 60 to 80% of main decisions, including at production companies, are made at office workplaces, and screen-based work stations are increasingly becoming the standard, the “need for ergonomic action” grows even clearer.

REISS Stand-sit-workstations

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Illness and costs

As established by the German Federal Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) and the German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BiBB), one in four sick notes relates to musculoskeletal problems. In administrative professions alone, 34.3% of employees occasionally suffer from back pain, while 50% have neck complaints, and one in three reports of headaches.

Apart from the lost quality of life at a personal level, the costs caused by these health problems are also considerable. According to calculations by the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, each day off work costs an average of 400 Euros. The resulting annual losses for companies are estimated to be in the 9-figure region, without even counting the costs for lost productivity. The fact that around 20% of the 18 million screen-based work stations still do not meet the minimum ergonomic requirements thus should not be a question of cost, for the savings well outweigh the investments.

Cause and effect

One of the main causes of these health problems lies in the forced postures many people adopt every day while working in the office. These are static postures held for longer than four seconds, with tensed muscles and no option for relaxation. Movement is lacking. Constant sitting even outside of work has a particularly devastating effect on health. We find ourselves in seated positions without sufficient movement for between 6 and 7.5 hours a day. Health impacts become apparent after just 3 hours, and, according to a Spanish study, the risk of mental illnesses also increases when working time is more than 42 hours a week. In addition to the well-documented damage to the back and musculoskeletal system, constant sitting also has far-reaching consequences for the lipid and blood-sugar metabolism, and can lead to chronic illnesses. At administration-intensive establishments, 80% of costs on average go towards the staff, but only 1% goes into equipping their work stations. Without rethinking the ergonomic side of things, the lost productivity at these workplaces will be impossible to compensate, both financially and in terms of human resources.

Dynamic solution

As playing sport after work or on the weekend cannot replace exercise at the workplace, an effective approach must start at the workplace itself. Simply standing up and working is much healthier and more efficient than sitting for a start. Occupational health practitioners advise spending up to 50% of office time sitting and the rest standing or moving. The crucial factor here, however, is the regular switch between the posture phases. The best way to achieve these so-called sit-stand dynamics is with height-adjustable desks. Individually adjustable sit-stand desks with suitably adapted furniture are the means of choice when it comes to ergonomic workplace equipment. The type of height adjustment is merely a matter of comfort; what’s important is ensuring precise tailoring to the user’s requirements. A height adjustment range from 65 to at least 125 cm provides the ideal working conditions for virtually any body size.

Designing ergonomic work stations always requires a holistic approach. Every person is different. That’s why ergonomic value is also measured in terms of individual adjustability and adaptability. Investing in ergonomic office equipment is economically wise, as it encourages performance and motivation, and also reduces illness-related absences.

Ergonomically relevant minimum requirements for workplaces

German Occupational Health and Safety Act (ArbSchG)

§3 Basic employer duties

§5 Evaluation of working conditions

§6 Documentation

German regulation on computer workplaces (BildscharbV)

§3 Evaluation of working conditions

§5 Daily work routine

German Workplaces Ordinance (ArbStättV)

§6 Workspaces, sanitary facilities, common rooms, first-aid rooms, accommodation

DIN EN ISO 9241: The ergonomics of human-computer interaction (screen-based workplaces)
DIN EN ISO 10075: The ergonomic principles of mental workload

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