Working Healthy

A physically less stressful workplace means greater efficiency

By: Margot Carmichael Lester

From time to time, everyone thinks work is a pain in the neck. But for some people, it really is.

In 1999, the latest year for which detailed statistics are available, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 128,000 professional and administrative workers in America missed at least one day of work due to musculoskeletal, or ergonomics-related, injuries.

Designing an office space with ergonomics in mind can reduce your own pain or avoid injury among your workers, boost productivity and limit liability. “Ergonomics isn’t rocket science,” said Judy Leese, senior ergonomics program manager for furniture maker Herman Miller.

“It’s essentially designing work spaces that allow employees to feel comfortable and prevent injuries.”

The three most likely injuries for office-based workers such as travel agents are:

" Repetitive motion injuries from doing the same task over and over.

" Neck, shoulder and wrist injuries from improperly positioned screens and keyboards.

" Back injuries from chairs that are poorly engineered or adjusted improperly. And while you could spend thousands of dollars on consultants and spiffy office gear, Tony Lathrop, a workers’ compensation attorney with the law firm of Moore & Van Allen, says that getting “ergonomically correct” doesn’t have to be complicated.

“A small agency probably isn’t going to be able to afford an expensive ergonomic consultant,” he said. “But you have some resources. Your attorney, for instance, can help you determine state and federal regulations, as well as your exposure to liability. And your insurance agent can give you ergonomics guidance, and might even come to your office for an audit.”

Keith Lessner, vice president of safety and environment for the Alliance of American Insurers, said most insurers are happy to offer free advice, if not hands-on consultation.

“Regulations vary from state to state,” he cautioned, “but in general you want to create work plans that alternate tasks throughout the day and design workstations to avoid undue stress, which may require special equipment.”

Even if you’re on a limited budget, you can benefit from the principles of ergonomics by evaluating your work space, using these criteria:

" Fit the worker one size doesn’t fit all, so design each workstation to suit the height, weight and reach of each employee.

" Fit the task while some employees use the telephone more than the computer, others spend much of their day filing so design stations to make executing tasks more efficient.

" Build in flexibility create workstations and work plans that allow employees to change postures and vary tasks to avoid repetitive motion injuries.

“The single most important piece of ergonomic office furniture is the chair,” Leese said.

“It’s very important that it allows you to change postures and positions you should be able to roll easily, lean back, sit up and do a little rocking. It should also move up and down to adjust for different workstations.”

It’s also crucial for your feet to be on the floor. “If they don’t reach, you should use a platform to reduce stress on your legs.”

She highly recommends the Aeron chair, designed and sold by Herman Miller, but getting the most adjustable seat you can afford is the main thing.

Even if you or the agency owner doesn’t have cash to spare, you can reduce injuries and improve productivity simply by paying attention to how you arrange your desk.

And get moving. “Be sure to shift positions as often as possible; and get up and walk around periodically,” Leese said.

Movement hydrates the disks in the spine and relieves muscle tension and joint stiffness.

In short, giving your home office or agency an ergonomic makeover can take some of the pain out of your workday.

" Bureau of Labor Statistics:

" Alliance of American Insurers:

" Design Within Reach:

" Herman Miller for Business:,1776,a10-c1,00.html

" Tony Lathrop at Moore & Van Allen:

" Occupational Safety and Health Administration: