You’ve probably heard of ergonomic chairs, but the science of ergonomics—which comes from the Greek words “ergon,” meaning “work,” and “nomos,” meaning “laws”—involves much more than simply making your sit bones happy and helping you sit up straight. Ergonomics is the study of work; specifically, it’s the science of adapting work to people—not the other way around—to prevent musculoskeletal disorders and disability.
Ergonomists understand how human factors—like age, size, height, strength, cognitive ability, prior experience, and cultural expectations— affect the way people interact with the products, processes, and environments in their workspaces. Poor design and function of workstations, controls, displays, safety devices, tools, and lighting can cause you to sit or move awkwardly. Such design flaws also can put extra pressure on your joints, increasing your risk of developing repetitive stress injuries—like tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, and tendonitis. Workplace issues can also include environmental factors—like poor indoor air quality, vibration, extreme temperatures, and excessive noise—which can cause headaches, congestion, fatigue, and even hearing loss.
By studying the biomechanical, physiological, and cognitive effects of work, ergonomists are able to create workspaces that are comfortable, efficient, safe, and easy to use. Instead of forcing people to adapt, these experts change the work environment to suit each employee’s physical requirements, capabilities, and limitations, thus reducing risk of injury and increasing employee productivity.
Examples of ergonomic workstations include:
- Adjustable, detachable keyboards and display screens
- Adjustable brightness and contrast
- Adjustable copyholders
- Proper lighting
- Anti-glare filters
If you’re concerned about how your workspace might affect you, or if you’re already beginning to experience one or more of the symptoms listed above, be proactive: check with your employer to see if they offer ergonomic evaluations (or use this self-evaluation guide) and be sure to report your symptoms. A simple adjustment of your armrests, chair height, or computer screen may be all you need to feel better and protect your body from long-term damage.