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Ergonomics of office work

A poorly organised workplace can have a negative impact on our wellbeing, productivity and health. Whether we do our work in the office or at home, we should first take care to create a comfortable and safe space. Find out what factors influence office ergonomics.


Workplace ergonomics - what is it?

Ergonomics is the science that deals with the adaptation of equipment and the working environment to individual human needs and physiological characteristics. In other words, ergonomics is simply how to create a comfortable and safe workplace. It is therefore a scientific discipline that has a real impact on practice. Employers, occupational health and safety professionals, as well as employees themselves, should make use of its principles to ensure optimal working conditions to perform tasks efficiently.


Organisation of office work - employer's responsibilities

According to Article 207 of the Labour Code, it is the employer's responsibility to ensure safe and hygienic working conditions using modern standards and technological developments. The employer is obliged to create such an environment that does not endanger the life and health of employees. The most important duties of the employer in this respect include:

  1. Ensuring safe and hygienic working arrangements.
  2. Complying with and control health and safety rules.
  3. Adequate response to health and safety needs, taking into account changing working conditions.
  4. Creating a comprehensive work organisation strategy aimed at minimising the risk of accidents and occupational diseases.
  5. Paying special attention to specific groups of workers, such as young people, pregnant workers, breastfeeding mothers and people with disabilities.
  6. Implementation of guidelines and decisions issued by working conditions supervisors.
  7. Complying with the recommendations of the social labour inspector.
  8. Organising health and safety training to minimise the occurrence of potential hazards in the workplace.

In addition, every employer is obliged to regularly assess and document work-related occupational risks. It is the supervisor's task to inform employees about the applicable fire and evacuation procedures and first aid rules. The employer should remember to refer employees for regular medical examinations and, if necessary, cover the costs of purchasing corrective glasses for work in front of a monitor.


Organisation of office work - employee responsibilities

Responsibilities for the safe organisation of work in the office are not only on the employer's side. Employees are also required to comply with the following safety rules:

  • listening to the instructions and directions of the supervisor;
  • ensuring that the equipment used on a daily basis is in good condition;
  • observing the guidelines in the instructions for use of the equipment;
  • maintaining cleanliness and tidiness at his/her workplace;
  • compliance with health and safety rules.


Desktop ergonomics - why is it so important?

The ergonomic organisation of the workplace should not be regarded by the employer as a sign of their goodwill. Workplace safety experts unequivocally confirm that it plays a fundamental role in the health and well-being of employees. A well-organised environment allows not only for more efficient work, but also for lower employee costs. In what way? It minimises the risk of health problems and the risk of accidents at work. It thus protects the employer from incurring costs related to medical treatment or compensation.


Main benefits for the employee of ergonomic organisation of the workstation:

  • higher levels of activity and commitment to work,
  • stimulating creativity,
  • increasing psychological wellbeing,
  • elimination of fatigue and sleepiness,
  • increase in concentration,
  • better health.


Improper organisation of office work - the most common diseases

Occupational diseases are most often discussed in the context of work carried out in particularly difficult conditions. Mining, energy, chemistry, construction, heavy industry, transport or utilities are industries whose workers are exposed to many dangerous, harmful and strenuous factors.


However, there is increasing talk of occupational diseases in the context of office work. An 8-hour working mode in front of a computer can be a source of deterioration of health, especially if the employee does not follow appropriate preventive measures. The negative effects associated with poor office work organisation do not appear overnight. However, in the long term, various ailments and occupational diseases may occur, including:

  • chronic musculoskeletal diseases,
  • carpal tunnel syndrome,
  • ulnar nerve groove syndrome,
  • visual deterioration (so-called computer vision syndrome),
  • neck, back and spinal pains,
  • neurological diseases,
  • varicose veins of the lower limbs,
  • thrombosis,
  • haemorrhoids.
Neck pain office work ergonomics
Office workers often complain of neck and spine pain

Improper organisation of office work - causes of discomfort

Bad habits combined with inadequate equipment and the need for repetitive movements are the most frequently diagnosed faults in the organisation of work in front of a computer. The main causes of pain during office work are:

  • Repetitive movements - typing on a keyboard, constant hand and arm movements when working with a computer mouse. Frequent reaching for documents placed above shoulder level.
  • Pressure on muscles and nerves - bending the wrist and resting it against a surface, constant contact between the elbows and the tabletop, and pressure on leg muscles due to limited space under the desk.
  • Incorrect working posture - inability to place feet flat on the floor, inappropriate posture, lack of backrest and armrests and inadequate seat and tabletop height.


Proper workplace ergonomics

People who work at a computer maintain a fixed sitting position for long periods of time. If you want to take care of your health and minimise the risk of occupational diseases, follow these tips:

  • Start with stretching exercises to stimulate blood circulation.
  • Take regular breaks from office tasks to stretch your bones and relax your muscles.
  • Avoid phone calls where you hold the smartphone between your shoulder and neck and type at the same time.
  • When typing on the keyboard, press the keys gently.
  • Hold the mouse lightly and do not press down on it. Remember to place it close to your hand.
  • Adapt your workstation to your personal needs - adjust the height of your chair, monitor and desk.

Ergonomic workstation, or what kind of workstation?

Do you know what 'ergonomic workstation' really means? It is much more than just a comfortable chair, the right desk height and correct posture. Below we have compiled the key factors that define the term ergonomic workstation.

1. Room

The dimensions of the office should be adapted to the type of work carried out, the technologies used and the time employees spend in the office. The regulations specify that there should be at least 13 m3 of free room volume for each employee and at least 2 m2 of free floor space.


The room height should be at least 3 m clear. Lower room heights (2.5 m clear height) are also permitted if the workers there are not exposed to other factors harmful to health, such as noise, dust, hazardous substances, among others.


Work in lower premises is permitted, but on the condition that there is at least 15 m3 of free space for each employee. Work may be carried out in premises with a clear height of 2.2 metres if they are facilities such as a duty station, exchange office, porter's lodge or kiosk.


Importantly, all employees must be guaranteed free exit at work, even when the door is locked to unauthorised persons. In this case, it is advisable to use locks that lock the entrance from the outside, but allow exit without the use of a key.


2. Position organisation

There should be unobstructed access to each workstation. Monitors should be at least 0.6 m apart. In turn, the minimum distance between workers who sit facing each other is 120 cm. The employee must also have enough space under the desk to place his or her legs freely.


The type of work performed determines how the office space is organised. There are different rules for the design of workstations for call centre employees and others for employees doing so-called conceptual work. 


3. Lighting

Adequate lighting is one of the key factors influencing efficiency and comfort at work. Natural light is the healthiest and most beneficial to the body. Regardless of the availability of daylight in the office space, an additional source of light should be provided for employees in the form of electric lighting. The light intensity at office workstations should be 500 lux. It should be positioned in such a way that it does not dazzle the eyes (e.g. by reflecting off the monitor screen). If the sunlight is too strong, the employer should install blinds or shutters in the window.


4. Environmental conditions

Temperature and air quality also have an impact on workers' productivity and well-being. In offices where light physical work is carried out, the temperature should not fall below 18°C. However, practice shows that it is comfortable to work in offices at 20-24°C in winter and 23-26°C in summer. It is recommended to force the air flow at a speed close to 0.1 m/s. Such a flow ensures proper air exchange and is not perceived as a draught.


Despite the apparent silence in offices, employees almost constantly pick up a very large number of different sounds that are made by office equipment. Polish standards allow for the following noise levels:

  • 45-50 dB/A – white-collar work rooms without mechanical and electrical noise sources;
  • 55-60 dB/A - typical office premises;
  • 65-70 dB/A - control rooms (e.g. call centres).

Noise generated by office equipment, telephone conversations, tapping on a keyboard or loud discussions between colleagues is bad for concentration. Working for long periods of time in a noisy environment causes stress and reduces productivity. Employers should therefore use sound insulation methods, e.g. using panels that act as noise barriers to separate workplaces, installing soundproof windows and creating quiet working areas.


5. Equipment

Creating an ergonomic workstation requires the selection of appropriate equipment. Typical office workstation equipment includes the following types of furniture and equipment:


A) Monitor

The optimum distance between the eyes and the screen should be between 40 and 70 cm. In turn, the viewing angle of the screen should be between 20 and 50 degrees. To increase the comfort of working in front of the computer, we can choose a matt screen, which reflects less light and thus causes less eye strain. Modern monitor models use blue light filtration technology, which further protects the eyes and helps to maintain good visual health.


B) Chair

An ergonomic office chair should provide stability, comfort and freedom of movement. When choosing the right model, it is important to pay attention to several parameters, such as:

  • seat height adjustment (400-500 mm from the ground);
  • Backrest tilt adjustment 5° forward and 30° backward;
  • 360° rotation around the vertical axis possible;
  • contoured backrest and seat;
  • height adjustment of armrests;
  • additional lumbar and neck cushions;
  • base (at least five-star) with castors.


C) Desk

A sufficiently large desk guarantees sufficient working space and the ability to accommodate the necessary equipment and work tools. Modern desk models are equipped with a monitor stand, a cable management system and the option to adjust the height of the top. Choose models made of sturdy materials to ensure long-lasting use.


D) Keyboard

An ergonomic keyboard is characterised by a comfortable key layout and adjustable tilt angle. Suitably designed keyboard models are available on the market to minimise wrist pressure. They are recommended for the prevention of ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome.


E) Mouse

A well-chosen computer mouse should fit the user's hand, reducing excessive strain on the hand and wrist. If you want a mouse that is perfectly suited to your needs, you can choose a model with infinitely adjustable sensitivity and programmable buttons that facilitate precise control.


F) Footrest

The footrest is an invaluable helper in maintaining correct posture while sitting at a computer for hours. By adjusting the tilt angle in the range of 0-15°, the user can set the optimum position of the footrest, which helps to reduce muscle tension.