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Use ergonomics to keep employees on the job

The U.S. has made great strides in reducing workplace injuries. In large part, this is due to an increased focus on ergonomics initiatives in the workplace. Ergonomics is an applied science that focuses on designing and arranging things people use to maximize efficiency and safety. Taking steps to optimize how your employees move and position themselves at work can improve their health and productivity.

Group of people sitting at desks in an office with one woman utilizing a standing desk.

A focus on ergonomics can pay off big

According to The Ohio State University Spine Research Institute, physical overexertion at work continues to be the leading cause of disabling injuries. These injuries cost U.S. employers an estimated $13 billion a year in direct costs, including workers' compensation, medical claims, and legal expenses. On average, indirect expenses — such as productivity loss, training new employees and increased insurance premiums — adds up to more than double the direct costs.

Workplace safety improvements can lead to big cost savings. Specifically, ergonomics-based initiatives can result in fewer:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and injuries.
  • Sick days.
  • Restricted duty days.

How can small companies get started?

An assessment from an ergonomics professional is always best practice — especially when injuries have already occurred. But hiring an expert to evaluate each individual workstation may not be realistic for every company. Fortunately, ergonomic guidelines are available to help companies of any size educate employees and reduce the risk of MSK injuries.

Ergonomic guidelines for your office

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers the following tips for office spaces:

Adjust your chair first

  • Chairs should be comfortable with back support or pillows if needed.
  • Armrests should be adjusted so arms rest naturally at the side and elbows have light contact. Padding can help prevent contact stress.
  • Rolled-up towels can be used to add support for the lower back.
  • Feet should rest comfortably on the floor when sitting. Provide a footrest if needed.
  • The edge of the seat should be three to four inches from the back of the knees.

Lighting and vision

  • Monitor should be at a 90-degree angle from a window to cut down on glare. Filter sunlight with shades or curtains if this is not possible.
  • It's better to dim overhead lighting and use a small gooseneck lamp to see documents.
  • Use the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of visually demanding work, workers should look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Employees should designate something across the room to stare at, blink frequently and use eyedrops, if necessary.

Computer hardware

  • When looking straight ahead, eyes should be level with the top of the monitor. If necessary, provide a platform to achieve the proper monitor height. Provide an external keyboard and mouse for comfort and to help avoid awkward shoulder movements.
  • When sitting back comfortably, the monitor should be about an arm's length away. If employees are using multiple screens or large screens, set them a few inches farther away. Put small screens a few inches closer.

Work surface

  • Desk height should be set so elbows are at greater than a 90-degree angle. Employees should avoid bending their wrists up.
  • Watch out for contact stress.
  • Position the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible to avoid awkward shoulder movements. The keyboard should be aligned with the middle of the body.

Other tips

  • Encourage workers to stay aware of how their bodies feel and make adjustments before health problems arise.
  • Workers should vary their posture throughout the workday. If possible, they should work while standing or change locations and positions, depending on the tasks.
  • Allow employees to take breaks every 30 to 60 minutes to get up and move or stretch.

For more detailed information, download the following flyer: Shared Workstation Ergonomics (Source: Harvard Campus Services).

Ergonomic guidelines for material handling

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), musculoskeletal injuries to the back, shoulders, hands, wrists, or other parts of the body may occur when physical tasks like grasping, bending and lifting are performed repeatedly or over long periods of time.

Conditions that commonly lead to MSDs include:

  • Awkward postures (such as bending and twisting).
  • Repetitive motions.
  • Heavy exertion, such as carrying heavy boxes.
  • Pressure on your body (such as grasping loads, leaning against parts or surfaces that are hard or have sharp edges).
  • Maintaining fixed positions for a long time.
  • Working in extreme heat or cold.
  • Loud or excessive noise.
  • Poor lighting.

The CDC recommends that employers observe how different workers perform the same tasks to get ideas for improving work practices or organizing work.

Consider the following improvements:

  • Rearrange, modify or redesign tools, equipment or workstations.
  • Alternate heavy tasks with light tasks.
  • Adjust work schedules, pace or practices.
  • Provide short rest breaks to allow physical recovery.
  • Modify practices so that workers perform work within their power zone (such as above the knees, below the shoulders, and close to the body).
  • Rotate workers through jobs that use different muscles, body parts or postures.

For more detailed information, download the following flyer: Ergonomics & Materials Handling (Source: The Regents of the University of California).

Allstate Benefits can help

Allstate Benefits offers a flexible, convenient and cost-effective solution that can help your employees manage musculoskeletal injuries.

A virtual muscle and joint pain solution
Vori Health is a nationwide specialty medical practice delivering virtual-first muscle and joint pain solutions to help members get back to their lives faster. Vori Health is included with some Allstate Benefits' Core Value reference-based pricing plan designs. With Vori Health, members will get treatment from a specialty physician, physical therapist, and health coach who work together to manage all aspects of care. This holistic model reduces unnecessary surgeries, lowers spend, and improves outcomes.

With Core Value, your members get access to Vori Health's services with $0 copays for initial evaluations and $0 copays1 for 12-month treatment plans for back, knee, neck, hip, shoulder and other joint pain.

Contact a sales representative to learn more about how Allstate Benefits can help your company and your employees.

The Self-Funded Program through Allstate Benefits provides tools for employers owning small to mid-sized businesses to establish a self-funded health benefit plan for their employees. The benefit plan is established by the employer and is not an insurance product. Allstate Benefits is a marketing name for: Integon National Insurance Company in CT, NY and VT; Integon Indemnity Corporation in FL; and National Health Insurance Company in CO, WA and all other states where offered. For employers in the Allstate Benefits Self-Funded Program, stop loss insurance is underwritten by these insurance companies in the noted states.

1Charges on HSA eligible plans will be subject to member cost sharing if federal law is not extended to allow first dollar coverage for virtual service. Charges for services with $0 copays will be charged to the employer claims fund.

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