Ergonomics is one of those subjects that tends to be smirked at more than taken seriously. Like environmental practices such as recycling, it is generally dismissed as a luxury for everyday business practice. There is often good reason for this attitude. Looking after the environment and taking health and safety precautions in the workplace have a price tag. Unless companies are forced by law to implement ergonomic changes, or someone proves that changes will help increase productivity, why should businesses bother?
The simple answer is that laws have been emerging since 1990 and that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) already offers guidelines on ergonomic implementation. It's a subject that is gaining momentum and as long as workers continue to get Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), trip over cables, slip discs or even electrocute themselves in the workplace, it is a subject that any manager of a business, including a Var business, should take heed of.
Also the idea that a healthy working environment is an efficient working environment is a true one.
Ergonomics is a subject currently being promoted by the HSE through its campaign, Good Health is Good Business. The HSE claims that every year, a staggering 2.2 million people suffer from illness or injury due to work, with 13 million working days lost as a result. This occurs across all business sizes, with smaller companies obviously feeling the impact of losing staff for a period of time, greater than larger businesses. The HSE claims that the costs of staff absence, re-training, administration and possible increased insurance premiums could be avoided if companies take steps to understand the working environment thus preventing possible illness and injury. The law is one way to convince companies to take this matter seriously. In January, the HSE recorded its first custodial sentence for breaches of health and safety regulations. A Bristol farmer was given a three month sentence for five breaches of asbestos regulations. It's an example of how far the HSE is prepared to go and a sound reason why regulations should be looked at thoroughly and adhered to. It is not just the HSE that keeps an eye on health and safety.
The HSE inspects farms, fairgrounds, quarries, mines, building sites, railways and chemical plants while local authority enforcement officers cover retailing, warehousing, most offices, hotels and catering, sports centres, consumer services and places of worship.
When considering ergonomics, it is common to focus on computer use and posture. Although the issue is extremely broad and covers every aspect of the working environment, the use of VDUs is a key issue, so much so, that the UK adopted and passed as law the 1992 EC directive on VDU Regulations.This came into force in January, 1993 and compliance was immediate. The HSE produces an excellent guide on the regulations as well as the possible illnesses and injuries associated with VDU work. It also publishes a range of other free publications, including one on assessing the risks of upper limb disorders.
There are therefore, several pointers in place that shout out to companies to start getting organised ergonomically. Some companies have already recognised the importance of a well-designed office and the effects it can have on staff morale and therefore productivity. Major Compaq reseller Fraser Associates is in the envious position of having moved into a purpose-built site which was designed with ergonomic considerations in mind. According to marketing manager Jed Dandy, a fair amount of thought went into the design and layout with every detail, down to desk positions and therefore network and power points, drawn into the plans. Sales teams are divided into pods, leaving adequate space between groups of desks and enabling easy movement around the office. Each desk has been specifically designed to take up a certain amount of space and to cope with a computer and monitor and so on.
It's basic common sense really, especially when building an office from scratch, but it's also important not to cut corners for the sake of costs - it could prove expensive in the long run. Dandy says that the staff have noticed the changes and feel comfortable with the new environment (Fraser Associates moved into the building about a year ago) and it's all geared up to making the environment more organised, comfortable and therefore more productive. It's not necessarily a view shared by Graham Hilton, marketing director of Hawke Systems.
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