Jon Abbott, Director of Global Clients, Cardinus Risk Management explains why global office ergonomics takes steadfast dedication and how to position your business for comprehensive compliance. 

Malcolm Forbes once said, “Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs”. In my experience, the challenges of implementing and managing a global office ergonomics program has many similarities, especially in the post-pandemic world where we seem to have less control over where and how our colleagues are working.

Over the years I’ve seen some brilliant programs being implemented. I’ve also seen some mediocre and even poor programs launched. In all cases, it has been wonderful to see practitioners learn from their experiences and evolve their programs to deliver better outcomes.

It’s an obvious statement to make, but our workspaces are changing. Hybrid working, collaboration and co-working spaces mean we have less control over how and where our colleagues are carrying out their duties. And Generation Z is developing behaviours around technology use whilst still in education – habits that will be hard to break.

These challenges must be met, and across the world, there are different approaches for tackling them, which means multinational businesses need to seek not just compliance but compliances. In the global arena, the motivation is still the same, we want to reduce injuries and discomfort, but often with one key difference – the need to comply with national regulations.

These regulations can catch people unaware; even the most considered ergonomics program that delivers outstanding results may not be enough to protect your organisation from a courtroom or having to negotiate a pre-court settlement.

Why do countries have regulation?

Typically, regulation exists in countries that have a social healthcare system. As an example, let’s take my home country, the UK.

In the UK, we have had a regulatory standard for many years. It’s very prescriptive and easily available online. So, what would happen if I were to develop an ergonomics injury, or in fact, any safety-related injury? Well, in the first instance I will likely get medical attention. For me, this will be free-of-charge at the point of entry and won’t incur any medical or clinical-related fees.

As my treatment is free of charge, my employer, Cardinus, does not need to carry Workers Compensation or healthcare insurance. This means that, other than the general employment issues of me being off sick and Cardinus potentially having to recruit my replacement, there is no direct penalty.

Instead, if I feel suitably aggrieved, I’m going to have to sue Cardinus and to do that, I’d need to demonstrate that my injury is a result of Cardinus’ negligence in managing my risk. Essentially, the judge will look at these regulations, look at Cardinus’ records (and that’s a really important point to note) and determine whether there is evidence of failure.

If there is evidence of failure, the judge will then look at culpability, of which there are usually three levels:

  1. The lowest level of culpability recognises that sometimes, things just happen – despite reasonable endeavours, isolated incidents occurs.
  2. Medium culpability recognises that systems are in place but are not being properly managed. An example of that might be that DSE resources are available but aren’t being pushed to your colleagues. Again, this is important – in the US we tend to operate reactive ergonomics programs; if a worker has an issue they can reach out for assistance. Often in regulated countries, the obligation is on the employer to proactively push the program to the worker.
  3. The highest culpability is reserved for those employers who willfully disregard the law. Luckily, in the world of office ergonomics, we are not likely to face any fatalities, but the harm caused by DSE issues is still to be avoided at all costs.

Countries with Ergonomics Regulation

Let’s take a look at those countries that have some form of ergonomics regulation or standard. But before we proceed, it’s important to note that the lack of a specific regulation does not mean obligations do not exist.

An ergonomics regulation is very prescriptive and it is usually clear what you need to do. Where there isn’t a regulation, you need to consider your duty of care.

For example, it is foreseeable that someone could hurt themselves while working for longer periods in front of their computer. It’s this foreseeability that matters because if an injury is foreseeable then, by law (in most countries), you are obliged to act reasonably to prevent it.

But, let’s take a look at some of the nuances:

United Kingdom

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK provides extensive guidance on ergonomics, and employers are expected to assess and address ergonomic risks under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

When it comes to office ergonomics in the UK, an employer’s DSE duty of care applies to any employee who, to carry out their job, must use display screen equipment for upwards of one hour.

Employers are obliged to encourage the taking of regular breaks, provide eye tests (if requested), and deliver frequent ergonomics training to both on-site and remote/hybrid workers.

United States

In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines on ergonomics, although there isn’t a specific comprehensive ergonomics standard. Instead, local state regulatory bodies interpret the guidance of OSHA, and, pending approval, implement their own regulations.

Without free healthcare, an injured employee in the U.S. often leads to insurance claims via the business policy and if the injury is the direct result of negligence, the injured employee may take the business or culpable individuals to court.

European Union

The EU Directive 90/270/EEC provides minimum health and safety requirements for work with display screen equipment, and these baselines are legally binding across all 22 member nations.

European employers must carry out sufficient ergonomics assessments covering eye, physical, and mental health risks. Once identified, an employer must stage appropriate interventions to minimise and mitigate any hazards.

Like UK regulation, EU workers are entitled to ergonomics training and eye tests, when deemed necessary.


Canada has guidelines on ergonomics provided by organisations such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). Provincial and territorial regulations may also address ergonomics in the workplace.

In “The Great White North” ergonomics risks are treated in kind with any other work environment risk. Employers are tasked with recognising, assessing, and eliminating or controlling these hazards.

To enforce these regulations, inspectors from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development occasionally review the ergonomic safety of workplaces.


In Australia, the Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulations include some provisions related to ergonomics, and WorkSafe Australia provides further guidance, but most office ergonomics standards are set by Safe Screen Australia (SSA).

SSA legislation asserts that employers must provide education and guidance on setting up ergonomic workstations; carry out frequent DSE risk assessments; consider lighting, ventilation and noise; and provide support for the physical and mental wellbeing of employees.

How to seek compliance

Notwithstanding any nuances (as detailed above), the fundamental requirement of any regulation is to manage risk. If you remember a few key points, you will be well on your way to complying.

  • Involve your employees: The first thing to remember is that it’s usually not the employee’s responsibility to ask for help. In most regulated countries, you should invite the worker to participate and ensure they know where to get help.
  • Train your employees: Train the worker in good ergonomics principles and ensure they understand the message. If you can launch this from your Learning Management System so the data can be held with other training data, that’s great.
  • Treat employees as individuals: Each worker should be assessed for risk exposures, are they hurting, how are they working? Are they being placed at risk? This could cause some difficulties – a proactive approach is designed to give workers a voice, and they will use it! That said, we find few workers have significant issues; most people just need signposting to get help. Where they can, a worker is usually keen to self-help. For bigger issues, it is incumbent on you, as employers, to manage any discomfort and pain.
  • Keep note of your efforts: The last point here is probably the most important. Document everything! If you can’t provide the evidence, it will likely be deemed that you have taken insufficient action to protect your employees.

Our approach to advising on global ergonomics

So, when we are advising customers on how to implement a global program, where do we start?

Well, typically, it’s less about us and more about you, or, more specifically, your policy. Do you have one? Do you have more than one? Regional HR teams may operate under different policies based on resources or other business needs.

We really need to make sure the policy clearly defines what your workers should expect, so our first port of call is to make sure it is reasonable, identifies the risks it is trying to address and documents how the risks will be addressed.

Ideally, it will be a short document that isn’t too prescriptive, leaving space to flex your solutions as needed.

Next, I’d look to see what you already have in place. You may be surprised to find you have local programs in operation that you don’t know about – we see it all the time. Some of these local, unofficial programs might be immensely valuable.

You have colleagues who are passionate enough to own their program and have an understanding of how colleagues will respond. Feedback from these local programs will help you to craft a more effective global initiative but, at the same time, be careful to not ride roughshod over these programs as you will need them on side.

Cardinus is here to help

Cardinus are global ergonomics specialists with decades of experience and over 1,600 global clients. Our multinational team of seasoned ergonomics experts can assist in your compliance efforts in several ways, including:

  • Creating ergonomics policies tailored to your business and its discrete zones of operation.
  • Delivering in-person or virtual ergonomics training to your workforce.
  • Helping you to identify risks with advanced employee self-assessments.
  • Finding suitable ergonomics equipment for your workforce – in line with your budget.
  • Managing your entire global ergonomics program to ensure comprehensive compliance whilst simultaneously saving valuable resources associated with implementing global compliance programs internally.

We also offer real-time global ergonomics regulation reports that keep you up to date on all the latest ergonomics legislation in areas relevant to your business. They provide step-by-step guidance on attaining compliance in each discrete regulatory zone.

Contact us today to discuss how a partnership with Cardinus can help you protect your employees around the globe and significantly reduce liabilities.

Final thoughts

Due in part to the global pandemic, office ergonomics legislation is evolving in unique ways around the world, which is fantastic to see, but it also poses challenges to businesses catering to varied regulations.

Effective compliance requires a proactive approach and constant attention to shifts in legislation in areas of operation. Cardinus offers tailored solutions—from policy creation to workforce training—to ensure comprehensive compliance for companies that transcend geographical and political borders.

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