5 Things I wish I knew about office ergonomic assessments when I first started out

Today I want to share with you the 5 things that I wish I knew when I started doing Office Ergonomic Assessments. I started doing office ergonomic assessments more than a decade ago now.  It was difficult to find my groove to say the least. When I was first starting out, I was researching journal articles and various websites to find answers, but either they were just showing me a part of the solution or the information just didn’t cut it. To put in perspective, when I started doing ergonomic assessments I was just finishing up my honours (specializing in ergonomics of course!) degree in Kinesiology so I had a firm grasp on the science of ergonomics, but I really lacked the methodology. And that brings me to what I want to write about today, tips that I have worked hard to figure out that can save you time and provide you value while you navigate through office ergonomics.

Here’s what I wish I knew more about with Office Ergonomics…

  1. The best approach to assessments.
    • When I first started out I wasn’t sure exactly how to capture data. I knew that there was probably a good, systematic way to approach this. I was so new to office ergonomic assessments, it felt like each assessment was kind of an experiment; each assessment I tweaked my method here and there, and to say the least it really wasn’t very efficient. But, with time I eventually streamlined my approach.
    • Here’s the approach that I ended up using with every office assessment:
      1. Major work task interview. This is so I could laser focus my attention during the assessment exactly where my client was spending most of their time. Even the amount of time they use the mouse vs. keyboard can give you a lot of information about daily routines and what may be causing their discomfort.
      2. Discomfort/symptom interview. In addition to how (what tasks) they were spending their days, I wanted to also laser focus in on where they were experiencing discomfort and what their specific symptoms were. Did they find that their symptoms increased at the end of the day or week? Was it always more in their right shoulder AND after using their mouse all day? Those are HUGE clues that are very useful to drive the assessment because they give details that perhaps I wouldn’t get to see during the small amount of time, relatively speaking, I have with them. Knowing the discomfort details allowed me to immediately focus on ways to improve them. Last, but certainly not least, I really try to steer clear of a person’s medical history and diagnoses because that is really personal medical history. They can choose to disclose that information to me, but I would never put those details in an ergonomic report. Why? Because, management and supervisors will likely see the reports and they shouldn’t be privy to that information.
      3. Ask the person to work ‘normally’ while I observed. This allowed me to take critical measurements and pictures while they were in candid postures. PRO-TIP: There is not a whole lot of value of doing an ergonomic assessment of someone sitting in their ‘best’ posture. You want to be able to capture their ‘normal’ working posture in order to provide your client with the most value. By working ‘normally’ I try to capture normal work habits that they would be doing anyway. You kind of want to work through the major body regions in a systematic type of way and compare them to what a neutral or optimal posture would look like. For example, this can be starting from the person’s head and working downwards or vice versa. To complete this entire process, it could take up to 15 minutes (for really complex cases) to fully observe, measure, and take notes/pictures.
      4. Summarize and give solutions. After the observation period, I always informed them what the major risks that could be contributing to their discomfort were and the degree/intensity of those risks. Additionally, and possibly the most important step is that I gave them my suggestions on what can improve it. This may include showing them how to optimally adjusting the chair, adjust the heights and positioning of various workstation devices (monitor heights, distances, locations) to better fit them, offer suggestions on how to improve their work habits, and then lastly recommend any equipment (if necessary) that would improve their comfort. From my experience, most of the solutions would be based on adjusting the workstation to better suit the client.  image1
  2. Doing a really good Root Cause Analysis.
    • I don’t think that I fully appreciated what this meant when I first started doing ergonomics assessments. Without a really solid root cause analysis, you can get really tripped up about all of the risks that you see in someone’s office set-up. I often felt bombarded with all of the symptoms and risk factors present, that I often felt overwhelmed and confused. This wasn’t really sustainable for my approach and didn’t provide the most valuable feedback to my clients. This is where a solid root cause analysis shines. I wish I knew this when I first started because it saved me SO MUCH TIME, and all my clients loved the high-value and TARGETED approach I provided them. This is because with a solid root cause analysis, you can provide immense value by taking a good hard look at the person’s set-up and nailing what one (or two) main contributors are to their discomfort.
    • Root cause analyses can be challenging to complete at first, but getting to the root cause of the ergonomic problem is essential to an effective ergonomic process and to identify appropriate control measures.
    • The value of completing an ergonomics assessment is its analysis of causation, rather than just focusing on symptoms. Ergonomic solutions to identified risk factors may have a lot of interrelated, moving parts, but there is usually one factor (sometimes more) that is the main cause of all of the user’s reported discomfort.
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  3. Finding the right alternative equipment.
    • If someone is experiencing discomfort it could be a result of a number of different inter-related factors in the office. That’s why doing a really thorough root cause analysis is so important! A lot of times the root cause of the situation is because the equipment that they use (chair, keyboard, or mouse for example) does not match up with them and as a result causes or contributes to their reported discomfort.
    • To make it worse, when I was first starting out, I found that it was so difficult to find useful equipment information out there that would help me through this process. I really felt alone. I didn’t want to suggest a piece of equipment that didn’t help my client let alone, make their symptoms worse. If you are your organization’s ergonomics specialist you have the luxury of going back and forth to assist your clients and also put into place things like an Ergonomic Showroom.
    • The difficult part is that today, there are so many different types of ergonomic equipment that all have different areas of specialization. Take, for example, the Evoluent Keyboard below, it is specifically designed for right handed mousers to alleviate right shoulder discomfort. I want to provide you some value here, but there is way TOO much information to get into. So, have you checked out our blog series on Reviews of Ergonomic Products? If you haven’t yet, you should! This can give you some useful insight on the PROS and CONS of popular ergonomic products. We also offer coaching sessions if you need some personal, one-on-one assistance, contact us to get started!Evoluent Mouse Ergonomics Help
  4. Distinguishing between an ‘OK’ posture and ergonomically risky posture.
    • It is pretty easy to determine what an ideal or optimal working posture is. The challenge is the grey area; that area that is just on the ‘threshold’ of risky for some and may be OK for others. And that is where the challenge is. Here’s a tip that I used; if I was ever unsure if a posture was risky, I cross-referenced that particular body region with any discomfort symptoms. If there was a match this would be an elevated risk, if not, it should still be considered to be risky, but just not at the same level.
    • Another way you can look at this is by looking at the joint angles. Each joint has an ‘optimal’ range of functionality, meaning that within this range there is a lower chance of developing pain or discomfort. There are different levels, optimal, moderate, and extreme based on where/how the joint is positioned. What I would do was combine this information with other ergonomic risk factors such as repetition, duration, or force to determine how risky their working posture was. I still use this strategy today, but gosh did it really take me a long time to ‘master’.dudes
  5. Setting yourself up for success.
    • My first tip here is kind of light hearted but nevertheless important! I have broken many measuring tapes from them frequently falling from just a few feet. Can you imagine trying to complete an ergonomics assessment with a non-functioning measuring tape? I was pretty flustered to say the least. So, since then I purchased a more heavy duty measuring tape. I have to admit, it is a little heavier but since investing in one of these I have never broken one.
    • Pictures: This is probably one of the most important, yet least completed aspects of ergonomic assessments. When doing an office ergonomic assessment you always want to take at least one picture of the person’s current set-up and any ergonomically risky postures you see, and then at least one immediately after with all the changes and adjustments that you recommend. It seems easy to do, yet in practice it can be difficult to take that pause during the flow of the assessment, while you have so many things you want to address! Pictures provide a big value to your client- they get to see exactly what poor postures, bad equipment, or bad habits they were using. This is key because so many of us can be blind to the type of postures we use daily. When someone sees their ‘before’ picture next to their ‘after’ picture, this can be a BIG win for you… leading to big wins in engagement to the ergonomic process and possibly the most important giving you a glowing review!
    • If possible, follow-up with you client. Following up one to two weeks after the ergonomic assessment to make sure that everything is OK will ensure that you addressed your client’s ergonomic concerns and give the client an opportunity to ask you any questions. Whenever I did this, I thought it improved their buy-in into the entire ergonomic process. Too busy to follow-up? Try leaving your business card or social media contact so any client can contact you when it is most convenient for them.  deskguy

There you have it! These are 5 things that if I had known when I was first starting out. They would have saved me a lot of time back then, and I hope that they give you a running start. If you have any questions at all please feel free to get in contact with me on our homepage or if you would like to personally chat take a look at our one-on-one coaching opportunities.

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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