Cardinus business development manager Sam Lawrence asks how we can remain comfortable with best practice.

In a world where health and safety is often said to have ‘gone mad’, it’s inevitable that ergonomics should come in for its own share of the criticism – undeserved, of course.

Health and safety sometimes feels like a PR game; professionals who care about making people’s lives better seem to spend most of their time explaining or fighting for their cause.

So, has the pursuit of ergonomic perfection gone one ball chair too far?

A recent article in the British press made much light about the BBC’s employing a ‘chair champion’ to teach staff ‘how to sit’ once they had selected one of three available chairs as part of their office relocation to Salford. Following his training in how to sit, Dan Walker, presenter of BBC One’s Football Focus, wrote on Twitter: “Just had a chat with a chair champion. I have to select my favourite model…all of them swivel.”

What I didn’t understand when I saw this article was why were staff being given a choice of three chairs without any former training or assessment as to their actual needs? The majority of staff in any organization would probably not know which equipment is best for them and will simply go for the aesthetics.

The easy trap to fall into when trying to adhere to best practice can often be to simply reach for the office furniture catalogue and choose anything prefixed with the word ‘ergonomic.’

Or you can offer your team the best ergonomic chair in the world but if they have no idea how to correctly use it or have any processes in place to ensure ongoing best practice they may as well as well sit on a box.

Or you can offer your team the best ergonomic chair in the world but if they have no idea how to correctly use it or have any processes in place to ensure ongoing best practice they may as well as well sit on a box.

As anyone who has a basic understanding of the 1992 DSE regulations will know, training staff how to use any new equipment in relation to their display screen set up is a legal requirement. You have to feel for the poor health and safety manager who was probably only trying to meet compliance and ensure all staff were comfortable in their new environment.

Ergonomics at its heart is simply designed to reduce the stresses applied to the body in any manner of working situations. This has to be a good thing.

In the current economic climate many employees (perhaps not so many at the BBC) are very hesitant to complain or ask for special equipment. It is very easy to make do and remain stoic. By implementing a good ergonomic solution you can significantly improve employee comfort levels and improve productivity.

However, with the ever increasing multitude of ergonomic equipment available it can be baffling and seem that it has all gone a bit mad. You may at least find yourself asking “is this all necessary?” You only have to look at the ongoing debate regarding ball or fixed-back chairs to be left confused as to the best solution.

So what should you do? Firstly, scale it back. What are the basics that your employees need?

Start with the chair. You will usually find that a standard office chair that can be adjusted to the employee for height, lumbar support and ease of free movement will suit them once it has been accurately set up.

You can then move on to the rest of their workstation and while there will always be some employees with specific requirements, you will more often than not find that the super expensive ergonomic keyboard/chair/mouse is not necessary.

The next step should be to empower your employees to take some ownership of their own comfort levels and feel confident in doing so. Do you have an effective communications process in place? Do staff know what to do or where to find support and further advice?

By ensuring on-going review and communication via well set out processes, many of the issues with lost time productivity and sickness absence can be mitigated.

I believe that ergonomics does have a role to play within any health and safety programme and while some elements have gone mad, as long as we can keep our feet on the ground (or resting securely on a footrest) we can focus on the best unbiased solution for everyone.

Contact Cardinus on 0207 469 0200 or email info@cardinus.com for further ergonomics help and advice.

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