Today, I was lucky enough to run into one of my past clients. This client mentioned that since the changes to her workstation were implemented over one year ago the symptoms in her neck have significantly reduced. Hearing feedback like this from a client is the best! Not only does it make me happy that the client followed my recommendations and achieved a positive outcome, but it also gives me an awesome topic to write about! And the topic I am blogging about today is how easily the most common ergonomic risk indicators can be overlooked. Overtime what was once considered to be in an inconvenient workstation set-up can eventually result in pain, discomfort, and even chronic pain. Really, the best way to avoid these from occurring is first to be aware of them, and second to change the workstation to achieve neutral working postures which ensures they never occur.
The biggest workstation adjustment that significantly reduced my client’s pain was lowering her monitor height because it was too high for her. And even though this seems quite straight forward to identify (pun intended), you would be very surprised on how often I see similar scenarios when I consult. The position of her monitor was too high for her seated eye stature; meaning the top of the screen was much above her seated neutral eye height. This caused my client to bend her neck backwards (otherwise known as neck extension) in order to comfortably view the monitor. And, neck extension is considered to be an awkward posture. In addition to this, she was likely using this posture for prolonged periods of time over many years. Because this risk factor was left unchecked for so long, it lead to frequent pain.
In fact, injuries (called musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs)) related to the exposure to ergonomic risk are some of the costly types of injuries that exist today.
It is estimated that from 2003-2007, Ontario’s (Canada) employers paid more than $1 billion in direct and indirect costs related to MSIs. Examples of indirect costs include overtime, equipment modifications, administration, retraining and lost productivity.
With such a staggering cost it is good practice to be aware of the indicators to ergonomic risk. There are countless indicators and risk factors that can tip you off to a problem with our workstation set-up. There are a few key indicators that stand out as need-to-know. Awareness of these are extremely useful, as they offer clues to which device needs to be adjusted. From my client’s example above, it was the height of the monitor being too high that resulted in neck pain overtime.
The need-to-know indicators are:
- Redness or swelling on the affected joint
- The skin around the area is warm to touch
- Reduced range of motion for the affected joint
- Pain (soreness, burning, or aching)
- Tender to touch
- Tingling, numbness, weakness, change of skin colour
If after reading this list you identify with one (or more than one) of the indicators then you should consider taking some of the necessary steps to ensure that its progression is stopped! There are many ways to do this. Check with what your organization’s policy surrounding workplace injury. You can also use some of the resources on this blog.