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Lower back pain, neck pain, and other musculoskeletal disorders are the leading sources of disability worldwide, ever since the Global Burden of Disease was first published in 1990 up until this very moment, in almost all countries (Figure 1) with no exception to income or leading industries.

Figure 1: leading causes of years lived with disability of both genders according to location. Source:  https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32279-7

This indomitable lead of musculoskeletal disorders as the biggest causes of not being able to perform work or daily tasks is alarming. Digging into the biggest risk factors associated with disability, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation IHME (2019) reported that work-related or occupational factors are the most significant risk factors associated with it (Figure 2). This crucial piece of data strongly suggests that ergonomic practices in the workplace and occupational health and safety protocols should be a implemented as part of the structure of any organization.

Figure 2 Percentage of DALYs attributable to top risk factors for both sexes combined. Ref: Musculoskeletal disorders—Level 2 cause. (2020, October 15). Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. http://www.healthdata.org/results/gbd_summaries/2019/musculoskeletal-disorders-level-2-cause

Ergonomics is the science of interaction between humans and the system they work in. In the office, this system is represented by the computer workstation and the office environment. Therefore, to reduce and prevent the occurrence of work-related injuries, it is essential to ensure that the workstation is ergonomically set up. In this article, we provide guidelines and a general approach of how to create an ergonomic workstation, whether at the office or at home. Spoiler alert: it won’t be anywhere near as expensive as you may think it is.

What does a computer workstation consist of?

A typical computer workstation minimally consists of a desk, a chair, and a computer. However, it is very common to find a cabinet drawer, a telephone, a document tray, and other office stationary. To build an ergonomic version of such a workstation, we’re going to approach it practically by working on the big rocks first: the desk and the chair.

What makes a desk ergonomic?

Contrary to popular belief and marketing campaigns, an ergonomic desk doesn’t have to be made from rare and/or expensive materials. It doesn’t need to be a sit-stand desk, or a motorized height-adjustable one. An ergonomic desk just needs to ensure:

1- A wide and flat surface enough to fit and handle all the tools and equipment needed without cramming them together.
2- A smooth edge that doesn’t create discomfort and pain on the forearm when sitting.
3- An adjustable height that fits you comfortably.

An example of a desk that satisfies all these requirements is the IKEA Anfallare/Olov desk which is sold for only 495AED, given that the general benchmark of ergonomic desks starts at 800AED.

Standard IKEA desk that suits all ergonomic requirements for basic office and computer work

What makes a chair ergonomic?

Similarly to an ergonomic desk, an ergonomic chair doesn’t have to be fancy. As a matter of fact, a fancier chair may be more complicated to operate and heavier, deeming it less ergonomic and more aesthetic. Ergonomic chairs are characterized by their adjustability, as long as they are made from standard-quality materials. This is why you can find an ergonomic chair for as little as 650AED, compared to the 4000AED price tag you can find on the heaviest marketed ergonomic chairs, and while still satisfying all the following needs:

1- Adjustable height
2- Adjustable arm rests
3- Adjustable back inclination angle
4- Comfortable seat pad design and quality
5- Breathable fabric that doesn’t trap heat
6- Steady base (legs)

What other factors to consider?

Ensuring that you have an ergonomic chair and desk resolves around 80% of the ergonomic demands. It is important to note that no matter how ergonomic your workstation is, it does not overcome the necessity of breaking prolonged sitting with movement breaks every 1-1.5 hours. That being said, the third most important factor of an ergonomic station is not a tool, equipment, or furniture, but the workstation environment. To make it simple, an ergonomic office or workstation environment should fulfill the following requirements:

1- Adequate lighting, highly preferred to be natural sunlight
2- Proper ventilation and temperature
3- Noise cancellation and reduction protocols and setup (acoustic solutions)

The three lists mentioned above guarantee that your workstation fulfills the basic requirements of any ergonomic workstation. All what remains is catering for the specific requirements of your tasks and job description to ensure that the system you work in is catered to your needs and capacities. Since this differs between job roles, it cannot be fulfilled in this article. If you wish to assess your workstation professionally and receive scientific and practical guidance on how to improve your health, wellbeing, and productivity during work, click this link to book a free consultation with us!

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