By Sandy Arseneault, CHRP
Ergonomics in the workplace. We’ve all heard the concept before but how many of us have actually given it serious thought? Guilty as charged. I sure didn’t… until I found myself using a lawn chair and plastic milk crate for a work station.
I had expected my office to be underdeveloped as the business I worked for was still in the planning stage of a new manufacturing and warehouse facility. However, I wasn’t expecting the impact of such a strange setup.
I hope we can all agree that this “work station” (for the lack of a better term) was hardly conducive to productivity or health. Between checking emails, setting up inventory systems and managing internal orders by phone, I soon began to feel the strain of my ridiculous workstation. Fortunately, my employer understood the importance of ergonomics in the workplace and assured me this was temporary. And it was. A few weeks later I was given a comfortable chair, plenty of desk space, a large computer screen, and overhead lighting. I was in heaven—in comparison. Except, it wasn’t long before I felt the need to rest my eyes, stand and stretch my legs, and rub my back.
Sure, my job was stressful at times (whose isn’t within a start-up?) but it seemed odd to me that I felt compelled to take a break every hour or so. Was this normal? Did other employees feel this way?
Unfortunately my thoughts ended there. After all, I had much more to contend with at the time—opening a warehouse, studying for my CHRP designation, and balancing “must do’s with “want to’s” for mental stability. However, I realize now there are common injuries as a result of poor ergonomics in the workplace, including musculoskeletal (MSI), repetitive strain (RSI) and other pains and strains. More importantly, I now understand that ergonomic injuries can negatively affect worker productivity, morale, absenteeism, and other related costs such as WCB premiums.1
Having more knowledge on the subject and upon further investigation, I decided to propose an experiment to five of my desk-bound colleagues. For two weeks, each of us tracked the number of minutes spent away from our desks before feeling refreshed and ready to perform necessary work tasks. This included resting our eyes, standing and stretching, walking to the washroom or refilling the coffee cup—ergo-breaks, if you will.
On average, our daily ergo-breaks were 54.6 minutes. That is 4.55 hours each work week, per person. According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, the average weekly income in British Columbia was $973.29. 2 Considering my experiment, that is an annual cost of $6,140.811 per employee.3 Outrageous, isn’t it? But there’s more. Remember: aside from lost productivity time we must also consider absences due to strain or stress, work-injury claims and the participation rates in paramedical benefits such as massage therapy, chiropractic services, etc.
How much could your organization save if they adopted better ergonomics in the workplace?
Known for her unique background in accounting, business and HR, Sandy Arseneault is an entrepreneur, writer and Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) who is passionate about people. Today, Sandy owns and operates Acadie Consulting Ltd., a consulting firm focused on helping local organizations implement effective business, financial and human resources strategies. She also works with the Canadian Cancer Society as a Coordinator, Volunteer Engagement for Camp Goodtimes – a safety-focused, medically supervised, fun and recreational summer camp for children with cancer and their families.
3. Cost of Discomfort Breaks Equation: $973.29 per week / 5 days per week / 7.5 hours per day = $25.95 per hour. 4.55 hours in discomfort breaks per week * 52 weeks per year = $6,140.81 per year per employee.