Ergonomics and the ‘New Way’ of Working

ergonomic_working_in_the_officeWorking where and when you want, this is in summary what the New Way of Working is.

The advantages have slowly become apparent: greater freedom in planning one’s working hours oneself, less time wasted on commuting, a smaller requirement for office space and consequently lower facility costs and less impact on the environment. The following article describes some common annoyances and the most important points of attention that require consideration when effecting the New Way of Working in an ergonomically responsible way.

What may and must be done
From a legal standpoint, you are responsible for providing good and safe working conditions. However, if your staff work at home or at various different locations, you will have less insight and control over their way of working. Your responsibilities as an employer towards your staff are therefore different than those for employees working in your office. In the case of working at home, checking whether an employee’s workstation complies with the minimum standards, and/or whether an employee works in an ergonomically responsible way or works, for example, with a laptop on his/her lap on the couch, is not so simple.We will give a summary of the statutory minimum requirements. The EU Directive 90/270/EEC determines that employers are responsible for a safe workplace, by virtue of which employers must ensure that home work stations are set up according to ergonomic principles. Another obligation is regularly taking stock of and evaluating risks. Employers must have a clear picture of the working risks and must also indicate what measures they are going to take to eliminate or reduce these risks.

Employers must obtain information on these working risks and on the measures to be taken to limit them. The EU Directive 90/270/EEC also stipulates minimum requirements as regards furnishing workstations. For both mobile and home workstations, the following points are most important: The screen must swivel and tilt easily and freely to suit the needs of the operator; The keyboard shall be tiltable and separate from the screen so as to allow the worker to find a comfortable working position avoiding fatigue in the arms or hands.

A laptop does not comply with the requirements above as the keyboard is not separate from the screen and therefore cannot be tilted freely. To compensate for this, use can be made of a laptop holder in combination with an external keyboard and mouse, or a docking station and an external VDU and keyboard can be used.

The work desk or work surface shall have a sufficiently large, low reflectance surface and allow a flexible arrangement of the screen, keyboard, documents and related equipment. A kitchen table will not usually comply with this minimum requirement and is therefore unsuitable as a workstation.


Working with laptops
The laptop is a very useful invention. A laptop is compact, is easy to transport and has everything you need: screen, keyboard and mouse. There is currently a trend towards larger and larger TFT displays.Increasingly, use is made of 24″ widescreen displays. At the same time, small displays are also increasingly being used, e.g. 12 or 13” laptops, I-pad and smartphones. For short-term use, such small displays are ideal, but one can better connect a separate large display for prolonged use. The laptop display can, in this case, also be used as a second display, for example, for navigating in Microsoft Explorer or for reading email. Another option is to choose a laptop with a relatively large display: at least 15.4”, but preferably 17” or larger.

Organising the workstation
When each employee has his/her own workstation, the workstations can easily be tailored to the personal needs of the user. In the case of flexible workstations, it is important that the workstation can be adjusted very easily and quickly, so that it satisfies the needs of the employee concerned. In this regard, two things are important:

1. The workstation can be easily adjusted.
2. The employee is informed about how he/she can adjust his/her workstation to optimally suit his/her personal needs.

Much improvement is still needed with regard to these two points. 61% of staff indicated that they never adjusted their chair (TNO, 2004). This is probably partly due to the fact that most office chairs are difficult to adjust and to the fact that different chairs are adjusted in different ways. It also appears that many employees are not informed about how to correctly adjust one’s chair. Connecting all the cables to their laptop and fitting a laptop support is also a rigmarole for many staff. For this reason, it is important that one should ensure that employees can set up their laptops with as much ease as possible. One way of achieving this is to use a docking station possibly with a separate display.

A balance between one’s working and private life

flexible_workingThe New Way of Working can have big advantages in helping to balance one’s working and private life. Staff can better plan their working hours and can also work at home when this is practical. This can be advantageous when, for example, someone has to combine work with so called care responsibilities, e.g. caring for children. But this new freedom of the New Way of Working also has another side: one is ‘always’ reachable, one can continue working day and night and one literally takes one’s work home with them. As said before: people who have a workstation at home work on average more hours per week than someone who works in a traditional way. This can, of course, result in increased pressure of work. Many of these problems can be overcome by making firm agreements, e.g. when one is and is not available, when and when not to contact a colleague and what one should do when one feels that one’s workload is too great.The New Way of Working offers many opportunities for both employee and employer. The New Way of Working can contribute to higher productivity, to reducing pollution and a cost-efficient way of working. However, one should not lose sight of the health issues and should ergonomically furnish one’s employees‘ workstations. Taking the advice provided above is the first step and obtaining the right information before implementing New Way of Working is recommended.

By Hugo Bos – Ergonomics Manager at BakkerElkhuizen
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