Offices & Operations mentor Mie-Yun Lee responds to the following question from an user:
I'm wondering about making my small business ergonomically safe and healthy for my employees. I know the government required standards were recently relaxed for companies of my size -- so I'm not legally required to make changes. But how much does it really cost to make an office ergonomically correct? Can it be done inexpensively? And is the cost worth it when you compare it to the potential long-term costs of worker's comp claims?

Mie-Yun Lee's response:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a federal ergonomics standard that went into effect January 16 - only to be repealed by the Bush administration two months later, which claimed that the standard was overly broad and expensive to implement. It could be at least a couple of years before a new standard is released.

However, the lack of a federal standard is no reason to become complacent, and you're absolutely right to wonder about inexpensive ways to make your workplace safer. Workplace injuries cost you in terms of productivity, absenteeism, and workers' compensation, and most of the time, workers don't know how to reduce their risk of getting hurt. A little education and a quick fix can go a long way.

OSHA had estimated the annual average cost of fixing a problem job at $250; you could probably cut the risk of repetitive stress and eyestrain for less by following these tips.

Seating. You don't have to buy a $1000 chair, but you can make sure your chair allows you to adjust the height, backrest, and armrests to suit your body type. A well-adjusted chair should let your feet be planted firmly on the ground, with legs at a right angle to the floor and thighs resting against the cushion. The seat should be rounded in front to prevent cutting circulation off behind the knee, and your weight should be distributed evenly on the seat. The chair's height should allow wrists to be straight while typing. Just educating your employees to adopt these practices can be a big help.

Monitors. Elevating a monitor using some thick books or tilting the monitor so that you can look at the first line of text at eye level can significantly reduce the risk of eyestrain, headaches, and neck and back pain. Changing the brightness of the screen, and dimming overly bright office lighting, can help too. Document holders that attach to your monitor and hold documents in front of you can reduce eyestrain and neck pain as well. Click to read's advice on how to avoid computer vision syndrome.

Keyboards. Forearms and wrists should be parallel to a keyboard when typing. A keyboard drawer or an adjustable keyboard platform can go a long way to ensuring this ergonomically sound typing position.

Wrist rests. These little wrist cushions can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome by keeping your wrist straight as you rest in between using the mouse. Note that your wrist should never rest on the cushion as you type or move the mouse, however.

Footrests. These help take the strain off your legs and back if your chair and desk are not of the appropriate height. Speaking as a small person, I assure you this works.

In terms of costs, I don't know how workers' comp costs would compare to the cost of these fixes in the long term. But your costs start long before any claim is filed; a worker in pain will be less productive due to sick days or even while at work. You can make for a healthier environment overall by encouraging workers to follow good ergonomic practices in the office.

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