Workplace design can impact companies in many ways, from employee efficiency to impressing visitors. One of the easiest areas to quantify in terms of its cost to employers is ergonomics. This is because repetitive strain injuries, often caused by poor workplace ergonomics, have become increasingly expensive for UK employers. This has made intelligent workplace design a critically important issue for companies.
In 2015/16, an estimated 8.8 million working days were lost due to repetitive injuries. On average, each case accounts for 16 days.
The National Health Servicesreports that many factors are thought to contribute to the risk of developing repetitive strain injuries, however, workplace-related issues are the most common. In the UK, these types of injuries are classified as repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and/or as Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorder Statistics (WRMDS).
How Office Design Matters
A large portion of workplace repetitive strain injuries can be prevented. Good posture, having the computer and keyboard positioned at the correct angle for each individual can reduce or completely eliminate RSI. For employers, that means having the tools available to tailor each workstation to the individual. Fortunately, furniture designers have risen to the challenge and created workstations that allow the necessary flexibility.
There are several major areas of ergonomic customization that are most critical in preventing RSI. New technologies and designs first revolutionized office chairs. In addition to adjustable heights, modern chairs include lumbar supports, adjustable arm rests, angle adjustments, and a variety of support systems that improve weight distribution across the seat and back of the chair.
More recently, dramatic improvements in desktop and workstation design have become available. Adjustable heights allow the desktop to be adjusted to the needs of each user or to even be easily adjust during the working day. Many designs include the option to raise the desktop so it can be used whist standing. Sit-stand desktops allow users to further improve their postures and reduce the risk of RSI.
The ability to adjust the heights of both the desktop and chair height is significant. Without this, an employee is often forced to either align the chair with the desktop or align the chair so that their feet hit the floor at the proper angle. Having either of these elements out of alignment could lead to RSI so the ability to adjust them both is extremely important.
Monitor height and keyboard position are the next critical factors in effective ergonomics. Fortunately, well-designed workstations are made to accommodate a multitude of accessories to make good alignment easy. Monitor stands and ergonomic keyboard systems make adjustment simple.
Some of the more technically challenging issues are designing office spaces to facilitate the specific work requirements whist avoiding ergonomic issues. This include avoiding glare on monitors from lights or windows, making sure employees can work with each other without turning at awkward angles, and incorporating visual and sound barriers where needed.
Currently, conservative estimates are that RSI cases costs UK industry between £5 billion and £10 billion each year. In addition, there is the more difficult to quantify negative impact RSI cases can have on other workers in the company.
Sometimes Size Does Not Matter
Over the years, NHS has worked to improve awareness of the risks and symptoms of RSI. Their efforts over the last twenty years have paid off, however, the RSI incidence rate of 550 cases per 100,000 people has now stayed relatively unchanged for the last five years. This means that companies must still remain proactive in preventing RSI within their workplaces. Education is also important since most cases of RSI can be quickly treated if they are caught in the early stages. Often, future reoccurrences of RSI can be prevented through small adjustments to an individual’s workspace.
Many large and medium-sized companies now include ergonomic assessments for their employees to reduce the risk of RSI. It is interesting to note, however, that the prevalence of RSI is the same in small workplaces as it is in large companies. RSI impacts 570 per 100,000 employees in both small and large workplaces. Medium-sized workplaces fared slightly better averaging 460 cases of RSI per 100,000 employees.
It is interesting to note the lower incidence rate in medium-sized companies. This highlights the need for companies to place a greater emphasis on managing their risk of workers developing RSI. While these types of mitigation programs carry costs, they don’t compare to the expense of RSI cases in a workplace. Currently, conservative estimates are that RSI cases costs UK industry between £5 billion and £10 billion each year. In addition, there is the more difficult to quantify negative impact RSI cases can have on other workers in the company. These can all further harm the company due to reductions in employee morale and efficiency.
While we continue to look for innovative solutions for preventing workplace RSI, our current office design solutions can dramatically reduce the likelihood of RSI impacting your employees. Clearly, there are still plenty of improvements that could be made in offices across the UK. Currently, work-related musculoskeletal disorders still account for 34% of all the working days lost in the UK each year due to work-related ill health. This shows that there is still more to be done in order to prevent RSI.