8 Ergonomic Principles to Follow to Improve Health, Safety, and Work Performance

If you look up the phrase “ergonomic design,” one of the first hits takes you to a page about men’s boxer briefs. But you’re likely here to learn about ergonomic principles to improve safety and flow at the workplace.

So, what do an office place and men’s underwear have in common? If you said that basic ergonomics could be applied to either of them to maximize comfort, safety, and aesthetics, you were absolutely right.

Are you interested in making your workplace safer and more efficient? Read ahead to learn more about working ergonomics.

An Interdisciplinary Affair

At a glance, the science of ergonomics seems like its mostly about feng shui and good posture. These concepts indeed play a role but it’s so much more than that.

In reality, ergonomics represents the mixing of numerous sciences to solve common problems. Human physiology, engineering, industrial design, and psychology are just a few examples of the disciplines employed in this field.

Ergonomic Principles and Human Factors

What are the ergonomic principles of workplace design and safety? Generally speaking, eight major principles must be considered in all cases.

Check them out to see how you could improve your place of work.

1- Staying In The Comfort Zone

Sorry to our friends who live the Carpe Diem lifestyle. Sometimes, it is better not to leave the comfort zone.

In ergonomics, your comfort, or power, zone refers to the positional relationship between your body and your work tools, be it a keyboard or the nails your hammering. It goes from your mid-thigh to about your mid-chest. Working on something above or below this zone increases the risk of injury.

No, it doesn’t make as good a caption for your road trip pics on Instagram. But your body will appreciate it.

2- Neutrality of Posture

Most of us have been told to stand up straight at some point in our lives. Usually, it’s because slouching or otherwise bad posture just doesn’t look good.

Studies have shown that people who stand up straight are generally perceived as confident and more attractive. It can make you feel more energized and positive. However, the benefits are more than superficial.

How to Stand (or Sit)

A neutral posture refers to the body’s natural position when aligned and relaxed. This exposes the muscles and joints to minimal pressure.

The back should be neither flexed (bent forward) or extended (bent backward). The same goes for the arms and the legs. Height adjustable workstations help you find the perfect position.

3- Avoid Excessive Force

We’re actually not referring to what police brutality. That’s more of a public safety issue.

The classic example of excessive force in the workplace is when someone tries to lift something that is too heavy for them. Or maybe they can lift the load, but not 300 times in a day.

These kinds of forces increase the risk of fatigue, accidents, and, over time, can lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

4- Healthy Movement and Stretching

Your body simply isn’t designed to stay still. Your musculoskeletal system is healthiest when it is in motion.

Staying in more or less the same position can lead to all types of aches and pains. This is especially true if you are using poor posture or you’re not in the safe zone.

Even with good posture, standing still for hours, as a cashier often does, isn’t healthy. Likewise, holding your arms above your head (outside the comfort zone) to hold up a board while someone hammers will lead to fatigue and exhaustion relatively quickly.

5- Avoid Excessive Repetition

So, you’ve got good posture and you’re staying within the comfort zone. But you still have to avoid excessively repetitive jobs.

Even a relatively simple task can be dangerous if done or over and over again. This applies to factory workers and farmers, for example, that often have to perform a highly repetitive task for hours.

Ideally, workers will be able to rotate between different tasks. If this is not possible, frequent stretching breaks should be given.

6- Seeing the Danger

You can’t avoid the danger that you can’t see. Not surprisingly, proper illumination is key to workplace safety. Dim lighting increases the risk of accidents and leads to eye strain.

However, bright lights and screens can also be harmful. Ideally, the workspace will have adjustable lighting that can be dimmed as necessary.

People that spend a lot of time looking at a screen are at particular risk for eye strain. Reduce glare with a filter or by placing the computer screen away from windows or other sources of bright light.

7- Bad Vibrations

Humans have specialized nerve fibers that allow us to sense even minute vibrations. However, prolonged exposure to strong vibrations can lead to nerve damage.

Vibration-induced neuropathy is characterized by numbness, and tickling sensations (paresthesia). Severe cases can lead to weakness and paralysis. Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur.

The classic example of a vibration-intense job is the use of a jackhammer. It can also occur with drills, hammers, and other tools. Take frequent breaks or rotate between jobs.

8- Contact Stress

When two surfaces come in contact with another, the softer of them can become slightly deformed due to pressure. For example, when you put pants on, the pants (usually) change shape. When you sit on a bench, your rear end changes shape.

If something is applying pressure to your body, this creates contact stress over time. This can lead to reduced circulation, nerve damage, and even ulcers.

Even resting your wrists upon a desk can lead to harm over time. Moving around and job rotation can remedy this.

Applying Ergonomics in Workplace Settings

The ergonomic principles we’ve laid out today are science-based and make a lot of sense. However, they only work if you apply them.

Whether you are work for a company or run a business, it behooves you to know how to prevent injury and improve efficiency.