What is it?
According to the International Ergonomics Association (n.d.), “ergonomics promotes a holistic approach in which considerations of physical, cognitive, social, organizational, environmental, and other relevant factors are taken into account.” Ergonomics crosses all aspects of job environments, from workstation design in an office/home setting to physical demands in industrial work.
Why look at it?
During this last year as our lives have shifted to being home more, our work environments have also changed to include a home office workstation for many more people. As a result of this shift, we as therapists have seen an increase in upper extremity, neck and back pain as well as decreased conditioning in general.
Ergonomics is about “optimizing function of an individual or group of individuals by adapting the environment in which the person(s) must interact is fundamental to every occupational/physical therapy practitioner. Specific to ergonomics, the skills and knowledge of occupational therapy practitioners in anatomy, physiology, and activity analysis make them highly qualified to work in the area of ergonomics, often within an interdisciplinary team. For individuals as well as groups of people whose ability to perform their various life roles (e.g., worker) is affected by illness or injury, or the threat thereof, the occupational therapy practitioner is well equipped to facilitate the successful return to optimal function through the use of education, intervention, and adaptation.”
How does ergonomics help?
AOTA states, “Using the fundamental skill of activity analysis, or job analysis in this context, the occupational therapist considers the physical, cognitive, and psychosocial elements at play, and makes recommendations to optimize function. In the work setting, occupational therapy practitioners evaluate, create, and adapt or modify changes in the way people perform daily activities.
Occupational therapy practitioners who specialize in ergonomics may be involved with any of the following:
- Conducting assessments and developing interventions for individual workers or providing health promotion and injury prevention education programs for groups of workers. Examples include providing visual aids and shadow boards for an individual with limited organizational skills following a traumatic brain injury and providing in-services on how to do common tasks in ergonomically safe ways.
- Designing and modifying workplace tools, equipment, and behaviors to prevent injury. Examples include recommending moving heavy bags by sliding them onto work surfaces of equal heights rather than lifting them, and customizing keyboard set ups for each worker.
- Consulting with employers and insurance companies on developing programs to reduce workers’ compensation costs (e.g., strategies to address the needs of aging workers; identifying injury risk factors and strategies to reduce risk exposure for specific job categories or populations in the workplace) and promote workplace wellness.”
Where do you look to monitor your workstation?
Quick tips to look at:
- Keep your feet flat on the ground or footrest.
- Sit up straight
- Eyes looking level at the upper 2/3 of the screen
- Forearms parallel or slightly less (90-120 degrees elbows bent)
- Shoulder blades settled on your back
- Correct mouse positioning close to the keyboard
- Rest eyes away from screen frequently
- Take frequent short breaks
- Stretch and move
- Watch for warning signs from your body
Occupational therapy practitioners have value in ergonomics based on their ability to analyze activity including tasks involvement, environmental concerns, worker and employee concerns. A practitioner may work individually or with an interprofessional team, spanning different disciplines, to achieve the needed changes. As stated by “The occupational therapy practitioner specializing in ergonomics has the necessary skills to facilitate improved function of individuals interacting within a complex system of relationships and environmental factors in the home, workplace, and public area.”