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Adapting to the New Normal with Ergonomics

Creative at work in their apartment
Creative at work in their apartment
Dr. Judy Village

Dr. Judy Village

President, Association of Canadian Ergonomists

Dr. Judy Village, President of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists, discusses how ergonomics has become a key factor in keeping up with a workplace that’s been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As organizations begin to recover from the effects of COVID-19, how can they improve employee morale?

Providing well-designed workplaces, whether in the office or at home, can improve morale and reduce pain and discomfort. It’s also a way for employers to show workers support and to let them know they care. Employers can ask employees for input about the best way to perform their tasks for optimal efficiency. When workers feel empowered to participate in the design of their work tasks, this generally leads to happier, healthier workers and a more efficient process.

How can ergonomists help during these hard times, whether at home offices or for workplaces?

Ergonomists are uniquely trained to take a systems approach to identifying aspects of the work tasks, workstation layout, equipment, tools, work organization, and worker techniques that might contribute to injury and inefficiency. Their analyses result in recommendations to improve the design of the work or how work is performed to optimize both worker health and system performance. These unique skills can be applied to both home offices and to modifications in reopening workplaces. Look for ergonomists certified by the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists to help with a virtual or in-person assessment.

How do you think the office environment will change with a return to work?

I believe this period has shown employers and workers which aspects of their jobs can be completed efficiently from a home workplace, as well as which aspects are better suited to the office environment. This might lead to more flexibility in the future with more work-from-home options. Giving workers flexibility over how and where they perform their tasks can be a win-win for variety, productivity, worker control, and worker health, as well as for the environment.

What are some quick and easy changes to make office spaces more ergonomic?

First, the most important step isn’t the universal purchase of a certain device, or a specific workstation change — it’s to educate workers about office ergonomics and how to set up a workstation for optimal posture and movement. This might look different for workers performing different tasks, or of different sizes or mobility needs.

It’s also critical that workers become aware of any early signs and symptoms of a poor ergonomic set up, such as wrist, neck, and back pain or eye strain. Early warning signs shouldn’t be ignored — they should lead to an ergonomic assessment to pinpoint the causes and make the changes necessary to prevent more serious injury.

One of the most common concerns workers have when using a laptop at home is the challenge of having the keyboard at the right height for the wrists and shoulders, while having the screen at the right height for the neck. One solution is a separate detachable keyboard and mouse that can be positioned for elbows at right angles and wrists straight, and placing the monitor so that the top row of text is at eye level.

Another critical aspect is encouraging movement — workers should be getting up from their chairs at least hourly and should build movement into their tasks, perhaps taking calls while standing or meetings while walking.

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