The correct design of an employee’s workstation can have massive benefits to his or her productivity and health
Designing an ergonomic workstation can be difficult, but it is essential. Correct ergonomics are specific to individuals and even the smallest ergonomic detail brings several variables. A comfortable, ergonomically sound workstation for one person can be completely uncomfortable for another. An unorganised workstation is a hindrance to safety and productivity. Workstations must accommodate every individual to maximise both comfort and productivity.
In a well-designed workplace, the worker has the opportunity to choose from a variety of well-balanced working positions and to change between them frequently. Working tables and benches should be adjustable. Being able to adjust the working height is particularly important in order to match the workstation to the worker’s individual body size and to the particular task. Adjustability ensures that the worker can carry out work in well-balanced body positions. If the workstation cannot be adjusted, platforms to raise the shorter worker or pedestals on top of workstations for the tall worker should be considered.
Organisation of the workspace is another important aspect. There should be enough room to move around and to change body position. Providing built-in foot rails or portable footrests allows the worker to shift body weight from one leg to the other. Elbow supports for precision work help reduce tension in the upper arms and neck. Controls and tools should be positioned so that the worker can reach them easily and without twisting or bending.
Where it is possible, a seat should be provided so that the worker can do the job either sitting or standing. The seat must place the worker at a height that suits the type of work being done.
For work that requires standing only, a seat should still be provided to allow the worker to occasionally sit down. Seats at the workplace expand the variety of possible body positions and give the worker more flexibility. Workplace design should fit the variety of workers’ shapes and sizes and provide support for the completion of different tasks.
Different tasks require different work surface heights. A guide is:
• Precision work such as writing, electronic assembly, drawing and reading – the work surface should be five cm above elbow height so that the elbows can be rested on it.
• Light work, such as assembly line or mechanical jobs – the surface should be about five to 10 cm below elbow height.
• Heavy work, demanding downward forces – the surface should be 20 to
40 cm below elbow height.
In ergonomically suitable workstations, there must be adequate room for people and components to move about freely without obstruction. There must also be enough space for any handling equipment that might be used, such as forklifts or other lifting equipment. There should be adequate lighting to avoid eyestrain. Whether at a sitting workstation or standing workstation, the worker must have the proper posture to avoid sustaining injury.
There are four types of workstation designs in common use: sitting workstations and standing workstations as well as workstations for precision work and for assembly work.
Guidelines extracted from the Safety Handbook, published by the Safety First Association.