Bad Postures at Work : Improve Your Posture at the Office

“You should change posture for ten minutes every hour,” 
Patrick Vincent, Vincent Ergonomie

Bad postures at work and its unfortunate consequences is something that Patrick Vincent is thoroughly familiar with. CCPE ergonomist and founder of consulting firm Vincent Ergonomie, he has also written a number of publications for the APSAM (Association paritaire pour la santé et la sécurité du travail) and the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CSST). He recaps these bad postures, which over time can be very costly for organizations.

What kinds of bad posture is it easy to get into at work?

There are essentially three kinds. As regards monitor use, a bigger screen does not necessarily lead to less visual fatigue, as opposed to what one might think. On the contrary, larger monitors often have a higher resolution and hence finer details and small fonts. It is therefore not unusual to see users hunching forward to see their screens, which can lead to bad back posture and visual fatigue.

When keyboarding, written notes are often placed beside the keyboard, requiring repetitive rotations of the neck, which can be demanding for the nape especially. The mouse is often badly positioned on the desk. If it is too high, it can cause shoulder discomfort. The sitting position also generates a number of problems. People adopt a variety of bad habits such as sitting on one leg or not leaning against the backrest.

What bad positions do people tend to disregard?

Those involving the wrists. People often rest their palms on their keyboards or wrist pad as they type, which can generate extensions. On the contrary, when typing, the tendons of the muscles and fingers that pass through the wrist and forearm must be able to move freely without mechanical pressure, whether this is through contact with a hard surface such as the desk or the wrist bones. We should type as though we were playing the piano, with our palms in the air and resting our wrists only between typing periods.

What are the main hazards of these bad postures at work?

They can all lead to musculoskeletal problems, i.e. problems affecting the ligaments, muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels or invertebral disks. All these movements taken separately do not necessarily have disastrous consequences on the body. But bad postures over an extended period of time and/or repetitive postures eventually lead to musculoskeletal injuries.

How are Canadian companies faring in this regard?

Ergonomics at work is a topic that interests people and there is a lot of information out there. Companies, however, seem to be less well informed about the risks of bad posture when telecommuting or commuting. Often, they feel that a telecommuter’s work environment is not their responsibility, while in fact it is their role to plan the tools required to work in the right conditions.

Facility design is also subject to standards, the Canadian Guidelines on Office Ergonomics (CSA Z412) standard in particular. The office furniture industry has also created its own BIFMA standard. Technology keeps advancing, and we are just now arriving at “passive ergonomics.” Based on the observation that many people were not adjusting their chairs, manufacturers have reduced the number of levers and developed chairs that automatically adapt to users for ergonomic positioning. The backrest of the Sum chair by Allsteel, for instance, uses air displacement to provide a customized fit for both large and small backs.

What would be your advice to employers as regards ergonomics at work?

A move or obsolete equipment—any opportunity is good to think about health and safety. Companies also need to rethink how they calculate the return on investment of certain purchases. If one looks at the costs of running an office over 30 years, 92% are related to the human resources who use them, 6 to 8 % are associated with operating costs (e.g. heating, electricity), and only 2 to 4% of costs are related to construction or layout. This is something companies need to keep in mind when planning their investments. A cheaper chair may turn out to be more costly in the long run if using it makes people sick and unproductive.

What simple measures do you recommend for employees?

First, you should change positions at least ten minutes every hour. Get up, walk around, move around on your chair or take discreet, mini-exercise breaks. You can stretch your legs, rotate your ankles, or stretch your back as you get up. By taking mini-breaks, you avoid static postures and renew the supply of blood. If you work seated in front of a computer all day, you should stand for about ten minutes an hour, and vice-versa for people who work standing up.

To avoid ocular fatigue, I suggest doing the following exercise every 20 minutes. Look into the distance, more than 20 feet, to rest your eyes. You can look over the top of your computer or out the window. Closing your eyes regenerates the lachrymal film over the cornea. Rewetting your eyes this way avoids the discomfort associated with dry eyes often found in air-conditioned environments. Also, we may not notice it, but when we are very focused on a text, we blink two times less, which helps dry the eyes.

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