It is very common to think of ergonomics as the science of telling people how to sit and how to adjust an office chair to maintain an upright posture. While posture is one aspect of ergonomics, it doesn’t remotely represent the whole science and methods. However, given how most ergonomic awareness campaigns focus on the element of posture and the fact that it is relatable to anyone hearing about ergonomics and hence more likely to be retained in their mind, the bigger and more important scopes of ergonomics have been neglected.
In this article, we highlight the entire scopes of ergonomics for office and computer workers, to clarify the inclusiveness of ergonomics as a science designed to improve productivity and reduce work-related injuries and disorders.
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is a scientific field that studies the interaction between humans and everything they use. The goal behind the existence of ergonomics is to fit the work/the system to the user, and not the other way around.
The most current dominant form of workstations is computer workstations. Computer workstations can be found typically in offices, but also in co-working spaces and at homes. Therefore, ergonomics in this context would stand for the interaction between the computer worker with the computer workstation and work environment he/she works at.
what are the scopes of ergonomics?
Following the definition of ergonomics provided above and taking into consideration white collar and computer workers, there are seven different scopes of ergonomics:
- Workstation and furniture design: this includes the space and layout design, along with the chair and desk design, given that this is the “system” the worker is interacting with.
- Workstation organization: this scope focuses on the desk organization for computer and office workers.
- Tools and equipment: this includes the monitor, keyboard, mouse, documents, and all the possible tools that are used during work.
- Work posture: work posture is not an entirely independent scope, rather than the outcome of the previously mentioned scopes. For example, there is no merit in advising someone to sit straight if they are working on a bar stool, because no matter how they sit, a bar stool is never advised to sit on for prolonged times.
- Work organization and habits: this scope focuses on the mindset for approaching work, such as the work pace and breaks.
- Work environment: this includes the lighting, temperature, ventilation, vision, and noise.
- Manual material handling: this includes the lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, and holding materials. This scope may not always be significant in corporates and office environments, given the lack of manual work required with most current office jobs.
how important is posture?
Obsessing about posture and neglecting the rest of the ergonomic scopes provides little to no value in improving health and productivity at work. Posture should never be looked as a unique component or ergonomic scope, but as a variable and outcome of the workstation design, workstation organization, and tools and equipment being used. The current body of evidence suggests that posture is not an indicator of injury risk, and we have written an entire article on this subject to address the misconceptions of posture.
While it is very common to find most discussions about ergonomics to stress on posture more than any other factor, it should be known that posture is not the center of ergonomics, but more of an outcome of the state of integration of several other scopes. According to the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, poor work environments alone can result in a 3% loss of productivity, whereas sitting in a slouched position can have beneficial effects of rehydrating the intervertebral discs. Being aware of the current science behind posture and ergonomics can help save you time, effort, and money by knowing which information to use in daily practice and which products to buy to improve productivity related to musculoskeletal health, so you can eventually work well and prosper!