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Workplace Ergonomics Basics

When not properly coordinated, the modern-day workplace can prove a risky setting where repetitive and prolonged movements, heavy lifting, and awkward postures can result in damage to the musculoskeletal system and cause other bodily damage. However, staff supplied with ergonomically fitted chairs, desks, computer terminals, and other tools suffer less from back and neck strains and injuries, achieve higher productivity, and generally maintain a greater sense of satisfaction, providing important benefits to the employee and the employer. Human resources professionals must often possess extensive knowledge of ergonomics to best serve their constituents. For instance, HR executive Barry Melnkovic, known as the “Father of PPG’s Ergonomic Process” at PPG Industries, implemented several policies that turned around a PPG plant underperforming in safety standards and generally encouraged a culture of injury prevention, ergonomics use, and accountability into the company. To understand how to make a workstation ergonomic, one should first understand the body’s stance when in a neutral position, a position in which the body’s joints sit naturally aligned. The neutral posture significantly reduces the strain and stress placed on the skeletal system, muscles, and tendons, thereby lowering the risk for musculoskeletal disorders. In an ergonomically supported and neutral seated stance, the head sits level and forward facing and directly aligned with the torso. The shoulders should feel relaxed and the upper arms should hang at the sides of the body. In the neutral position, a person’s elbows stay next to the body and bent at between 90 degrees and 120 degrees. The hands, wrists, and forearms form a straight line, running perpendicular from the body and parallel to the floor. The back should receive appropriate lumbar support from the chair when positioned in a vertical or slightly leaning back posture. An ergonomic chair also possesses a thickly padded seat parallel with the floor to best accommodate the thighs and hips. Lastly, in the neutral stance, the knees are located at close to the same height as the hips, the feet just slightly forward from the knees. Even when properly positioned, a person should avoid sitting still for long periods of time. He or she should stand up and walk around periodically, regularly stretch out the upper body, hands, and arms, and make minor changes to his or her chair’s backrest throughout the day.