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Preventing Musculoskeletal Conditions: Part 1, Office Settings
The Council for Disability Awareness listed musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders as the leading case of new disability claims in 2012.1 This includes such conditions and diseases as arthritis, back pain and tendinitis.
Although these types of disabling conditions may be genetic and/or sustained outside of work, employers can actually help prevent them from worsening and requiring a disability claim. In light of Disability Insurance Awareness Month, this first post in a two-part series will address how to help employees in an office setting from exacerbating musculoskeletal injuries.
Make Your Employees' Workstations Work for Them
In my work with employees who are struggling with musculoskeletal discomfort, I often find they are working at improperly fitted workstations. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has created guidelines that the Workplace Possibilities team uses when evaluating and adjusting employee workstations.
Adjusting an employee’s workstation doesn’t have to include expensive or drastic changes. Consider the following list of what to address when setting up a workstation:
- Equipment and position. Per OSHA guidelines, an employee’s chair, desk and monitor need to be height-adjustable.2 If desks are at fixed heights, then consider installing keyboard trays and/or add footrests paired with chair cylinders that will allow for proper ergonomic position. An employee’s computer monitor should be at — or just below — eye level, and his or her keyboard and mouse should be positioned close together, allowing for the elbows to stay close to the body. An ergonomically neutral working posture helps to reduce tensing of the muscles and reduce bone or joint pain.
- Posture. You can’t police posture, but a little self-help instruction can go a long way. I provide to many employees I work with the following online manual from Oregon OSHA titled, “Evaluating your computer workstation: How to make it work for you.” Employees can incorporate tips in their daily routines.
- Movement. Although this isn’t part of a workstation per se, encourage employees to take short breaks that include dynamic movement every 30 minutes or so. This can be as simple as getting up to go to the printer, getting a drink of water or taking a quick lap around the department floor. Humans aren’t built to sit all day — and these subtle movements keep bodies healthy and active.
These small changes can add up for an employee who is experiencing pain or discomfort at work. However, it won’t fix everything. Be sure to listen to your employees’ needs, and bring in additional experts if and when needed.
1 Council for Disability Awareness. 2013 Long Term Disability Claims Review. Available at http://www.disabilitycanhappen.org/research/CDA_LTD_Claims_Survey_2013.asp. Accessed April 17, 2014.
2 Occupational Safety & Health Administration website. Computer Workstations. Available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/. Accessed April 17, 2014.