April 2018: A Primary Risk and Injury Driver In Office Ergonomics
- Given that you provide a basic reasonably-safe standard of equipment and environment for your computer-using employees, then the primary determinant and driver of comfort, risk, productivity and your Lost Time Case Rate is employee behavior.
In fact, the most often utilized Office Ergonomics interventions (workstation assessment, adjustment, employee training, etc…) are each designed to encourage good employee behaviors such as working in neutral postures and taking microbreaks while working – resulting in a more comfortable, safer and productive workplace.
What employers have found over time, unfortunately, is that no matter how earnestly we improve workstations and educate employees with online courses; “employee behaviors” will dictate their actual results.
We know that behavioral change and improvement are, after all, the true domain of Applied Behavioral Analysis and operant conditioning – unless we dismiss 100 years of the science.
In part one of this topic, we’ll explore fostering recovery time through microbreaks, examine the only known effective approach and look at this basic workflow behavior in more detail. In part two in a future article, we’ll explore the importance of posture and how our clients effectively develop neutral-posture behaviors in employees within a long-term sustainable model.
Microbreaks? What Are They And Why Should I Care?
The following is a simple clear and concise explanation of microbreaks from one of the largest Workers Compensation insurers (see full text):
“Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) are often referred to as ‘soft tissue damage’ or when the rate
of repetition exceeds the body’s rate of cellular regeneration.
When a part of the body, such as the hand or wrist is overused, soft tissue begins to break down
on a cellular level. Internally, the body needs to catch up—take an internal breath or pause for a few seconds from the repetitiveness of the task—to keep the systems balanced and working at peak efficiency. This is referred to as a microbreak. Simply put, a microbreak is a short pause to enable
oxygen to get to the cells that need it the most.
Numerous studies have been conducted in an effort to determine just how frequently microbreaks
should be taken and what is an optimal microbreak, both for our health and for productive work.
Results show that not only did these microbreaks help minimize postural injury risks, but productivity actually increased by 14.9%. This helps to demonstrate that the body performs better when it has the opportunity to re-energize to some extent throughout the day—when it has a chance to take this
internal breath—and that it is especially effective when coupled with appropriate stretches.
Employees are advised to find a comfort level when working. They should be aware of overuse of
certain body parts and try to give them a break. Remember, in most cases, it is only a matter of
seconds to enable the body to recover. If a person’s productivity also improves, and they generally
feel less tired throughout the day as a result, then everybody wins.”
Science and Experience Prompt Regulation
Globally, every current governmental regulation specifically addressing computer ergonomics (including
laws in 30+ countries) includes specific text on the employer’s responsibility in providing frequent short recovery breaks (microbreaks) during work.
- Three decades of data clearly identifies microbreaks taken during work as critical for cellular recovery time, however, the question has been and remains for many to be “what microbreak formula is required to achieve what discomfort profile for any group” (with discomfort being the
top observable “leading indicator” of injury risk in an otherwise safe environment).
The answer is that it depends on the patterns of work and rest which are different for every employee and
even different for the same employee at different times depending on their day based on many changing factors.
For employees, the behavioral practice of intermixing very brief short microbreaks during work has been proven to be something most often impossible without behavioral coaching to help them change their long-
lived previous behaviors.
Case Study Mitigation Results
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