The risk of poor workstation ergonomics
Author: Wade Brennan, Occupational Health Physiotherapist
Poor workstation ergonomics can have serious consequences for employees, including discomfort, fatigue, and even long-term injury. In Australia, there are a number of laws and standards in place to help prevent these negative outcomes, but many workplaces still fall short of providing safe and comfortable working environments. The hidden costs (often a reduction in productivity) of employees working with discomfort are hard to directly measure but can add up substantially for employers.
Australian legislation related to workplace health and safety includes the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011. These laws require employers to ensure the health and safety of their workers, including providing a safe work environment and implementing measures to prevent injury or illness. Failure to comply with these laws can result in serious consequences for employers, including fines and legal action. Outside the legal consequences for employers ensuring employees feel heard and supported is a huge part of long term sustainability.
In addition to legislation, there are a number of Australian Standards that relate specifically to workplace ergonomics. One important standard is AS/NZS 4442:2018, which provides guidelines for the design and implementation of ergonomic workstations. Other standards also cover a wide range of factors, including the design of chairs, desks, and other furniture, as well as lighting, noise, and ventilation.
One of the key risk factors for injury related to poor ergonomics is the design of the workstation itself. Many workstations are not adjustable, which can lead to employees being forced to work in awkward positions that put stress on their bodies. This can lead to discomfort, fatigue, and possibly to long-term injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) or repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). An awkward posture is one of only 5 risk factors for work related musculoskeletal disorders (MDSs).
Another risk factor is the design of chairs and desks. Chairs that do not provide adequate seat pan depth or backrest height, for example, can lead to a lack of support/comfort and possibly to back pain, while desks that are too high or too low can cause neck and shoulder strain. In addition, inadequate lighting, noise levels, and ventilation can all contribute to discomfort and fatigue, and can even lead to more serious health problems over time.
To address these risk factors, employers need to ensure that their workstations are designed with ergonomics in mind. This means providing adjustable furniture, ensuring proper lighting and ventilation, and taking steps to minimize noise levels in the workplace. Employers also need to provide training and education for their employees on proper ergonomics, including how to adjust their workstations to fit their individual needs. Better educated team members are able to make self adjustments to their workstation to aim to avoid the need for external assessments.
In conclusion, poor workstation ergonomics can have serious consequences for employees, and can even result in long-term injuries that affect their quality of life. Employers have a legal and moral obligation to provide safe and comfortable working environments, and should take steps to comply with Australian legislation and standards related to workplace ergonomics. By doing so, they can help prevent injury and promote the health and wellbeing of their employees.
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This blog post was written by Occupational Health Physiotherapist and Director of Corporate Work Health Australia Wade Brennan.