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Good Workplace Ergonomics Matter! Lessons from Medical Lab Technicians

Good Workplace Ergonomics Matter! Lessons from Medical Lab Technicians

Are the bad ergonomics of your workplace causing you chronic back or neck pain? If so, you’re not alone. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) are one of the leading causes of occupational injuries and disability throughout the world. In the United States, WRMSDs cause over 647,000 days of lost work every year and result in workman’s compensation claims costing anywhere from $45 billion to $60 billion. They also account for 34% of all work-related injuries and illnesses. Examples of WRMSDs include chronic back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, sprains, and hernias. While you might assume that these types of injuries are the result of unrelated incidents or isolated situations playing out in many different environments across the country on any given day, there is actually a pattern. Many of them are caused by badly designed workplaces.

This pattern became evident in a study recently published in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. The researchers wanted to analyze the postures of workers in a high-tech medical laboratory to determine the prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and to investigate the relationship of these musculoskeletal disorders to workers’ individual factors, their work characteristics, and their working postures.

They gathered data from the medical lab technicians, using the Nordic Musculoskeletal Questionnaire (NMQ, a standardized scale for measuring musculoskeletal disorders and occupational health), the Visual Analogue Scale (VAS, a type of self-reporting measurement), and RULA (Rapid Upper Limb Assessment, a self-reported scale by which workers assess the postures that most accurately reflect their working positions). They then assessed the positions that the technicians’ lab workstations and equipment forced them to adopt for long periods of time each day and compared them with the technicians’ medical problems.

What they found was that poor lab workstation design was causing musculoskeletal problems in 73.3% of the workers. The poorer their posture was on the VAS and RULA scales, the more musculoskeletal problems they had. In addition, there was a significant difference between pre-work and post-shift reports of neck, lower back, and knee pain. In summation, the workplace design was definitely causing the WRMSDs.

There is a very real possibility that your own workplace is just as likely to put you at an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. Symptoms of WRMSDs are not limited to back and neck pain—they also include joint discomfort, muscle tightening and swelling, stiffness, and feelings of numbness or “pins and needles.”

If you or your fellow workers have noticed such symptoms, you should report them to your employer and expect that they will take steps to correct any problem-causing ergonomics. In the interim, you can take some steps on your own to protect yourself from WRMSDs. You don’t have to sit at a desk that is too high or low or in a chair that puts you in an uncomfortable and unhealthy position. Modern desks and their accompanying desk chairs have controls that can be used to lower or raise them. The same applies to computers or other equipment you use every day—you can put your monitor on top of some books so that it’s more in your line of sight or make other changes to help make your workspace more ergonomic. A good place to start looking for tips on how to improve the ergonomics of your office workspace is the Occupational Safety & Health Administration Computer Workstations guide. OSHA also has similar guides for other types of work environments.


How to Add More Physical Activity to Your Work Day

How to Add More Physical Activity to Your Work Day


People who work in an office setting spend the majority of their day sitting. If this is you, chances are that you sit at your desk for at least eight hours. It’s also likely that you sit while commuting to and from work. And—after such a long day—you may decide to join the millions of Americans who decompress on the sofa while watching TV.

Guess what? All this nonstop sitting is detrimental to your health!

Spending most of your time inactive, whether sitting or standing in one place for hours on end, without physical activity increases your risk of obesity (and the slew of illnesses that can come with being overweight), back pain, poor posture and varicose veins. If that news isn’t bad enough, current studies suggest that even regular workouts don’t actually offset the damage done by sitting throughout the rest of the day. In other words, you can’t make up for all that sitting by exercising in a one-hour block.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to easily add movement to your workday and break up those long periods of sitting.

  1. Take frequent breaks throughout the day.

If you sit a lot during the day, take every chance you can to move around—or at least change your position frequently. The following are examples of how you can add movement to your day:

  • Stand while taking a phone call.
  • Stand up while you work on the computer. Try this with a “standing desk” or, if you can, raise your desk to a level that allows your elbows to bend at a 90-degree angle.
  • Stretch your body as much as you want to help maintain your flexibility.
  • Actually take your break. This means leave your desk, walk to the break room, walk across the office to chat with a colleague or simply take this time to walk around the building and clear your head while you get your blood flowing.
  1. Sneak in exercise wherever you can.

A lot of people are self-conscious about being seen exercising, and that’s ok. You can do the following exercises on the sly:

  • Kick your legs back and forth under your desk.
  • Suck in your abs, clench your glutes and hold them in place as you sit.
  • Intentionally park near the back of the parking lot so you have to walk a little further.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
  • Instead of emailing or sending an instant message to your coworker, get up, walk over to her and talk to her in person.
  • The restroom is the perfect place to exercise incognito. You can march in place, do jumping jacks, squats and much more within the small space of a bathroom stall.
  1. Rely on your coworkers for support.

Research has long shown that people are more likely to reach exercise goals when they have someone to hold them accountable and show encouragement. Plus, it’s no fun to go it alone! Gather a group of fitness-minded coworkers to get active together during the day or outside of work. Meet on breaks or at a designated time to participate in some type of group exercise such as fast walking around the building, climbing stairs or doing yoga in an empty office.