Construction crews. Teams standing for hours along an assembly line. Inventory specialists lifting boxes inside a factory or ship welders huddled in the hull of a submarine all day.
It’s easy to imagine people in these positions suffering from backbreaking work.
But anyone who works at a computer all day can be included in this group, too.
Just ask Sera-Brynn, one of the top-ranked cybersecurity companies in the world with an international client base of companies it helps in securing their computing environments from things like ransomware and data breaches.
Headquartered in Suffolk, Va., Sera-Brynn is a leader in cybersecurity that works with Fortune 1000 companies. They also care about their employees.
At least that’s the message they sent recently when they invited Tidewater Physical Therapy and its crew of occupational specialists out to their office to conduct an ergonomic assessment for three of their employees. Sean Henry, Tidewater’s ergonomic analyst, was joined by Julie Radan, the private physical therapy company’s Occupational Services Director, in making the drive out to the Sera-Brynn headquarters.
Henry conducted assessments for Sera-Brynn information security specialists Jevon Taylor and Nia Meadows, as well as their intern Harrison Davis.
With a small tape measure, short questionnaire and expertise in office mechanics, Henry set out to make some observations of the employees’ working environment and then quickly provided an assessment and recommendations for improved ergonomics.
The assessment process
All three Sera-Brynn employees use laptops for work. Interestingly, while Harrison remains in a cubicle for work, both Taylor and Meadows typically move around in the day, frequently working in conference rooms with more natural light.
Henry met individually with each of the three employees, finding out details about where they sit, how they typically work and how they have their desk set up.
It’s all part of the Tidewater Physical Therapy ergonomics assessment process.
A Tidewater Physical Therapy three-step evaluation process consists of an on-site assessment, recommendations and accountability. Here’s how this plays out:
—An on-site assessment entails Henry conducting an in-depth work station assessment to identify any risk factors for work-related injury and discomfort;
—The recommendations involve cost-effective and practical solutions that, in most cases, don’t require the need to buy equipment or fund office modifications. Typically Henry provides behavior-based tips and training on proper work posture, in addition to adjusting work stations to include chairs;
—For accountability, Tidewater provides a Tidewater Ergonomics Assessment Report consisting of analysis, evaluations and recommendations, in addition to employee support by way of phone, email and in-person communications for six months.
Individual ergonomics assessments
In the case of Taylor, Henry started off by having him take a brief survey, called an office ergonomics pain questionnaire, and took measurements, including table height, the height of the chair Taylor was sitting in and even the size of the laptop computer screen.
The whole idea is to reduce work-related injuries and relieving pain, discomfort and repetitive use injuries, not to mention reducing employees’ time out of work due to injuries and saving on medical bills.
Henry quickly learned from Taylor that in moving around the office to different locations he would sit for large segments of time in a chair that doesn’t adjust — which poses problems. The chair was three inches lower than his resting elbow height, bringing him out of a neutral seated posture. This caused him to work with his arms raised and extended away from him, in effect reaching for it and placing an additional strain on him.
“By raising his chair by a few inches, his posture improved dramatically. When we have to sit, we should sit well.”
“Keeping your work closer to you is better for you, especially when sustaining a posture for long periods,” Henry said.
So is taking small breaks every 30 minutes. This can include getting up to walk around, stretching, a combination of those, or something else.
“Do some type of micro-break,” he said. “The idea is that you want to incorporate more movement throughout the day to limit prolonged postures. Small breaks (15 seconds or so) when taken very regularly have a profound effect on recovery of active postural muscles. ”
Henry also stressed taking micro-breaks before noticing muscles are sore.
“Movement really is the biggest thing,” Henry said. “If you’re sitting for too long then you kind of start to adapt to that. Your body will adapt to whatever position it’s in. If you start to stretch after you feel stiff, you’ve waited too long.”
Ergonomics benefits for companies
For companies, there’s a payoff to investing in ergonomics assessments. Research has shown that companies that invest in the safety, productivity and wellness of their workforce are rewarded with improved productivity, reduced injury rates, lower workers’ compensation costs and improved financial wellness. Tidewater Physical Therapy’s largest corporate clients average reduced OSHA recordable injuries by an average of 11 percent.
There’s also ample evidence of a strong return on investment (ROI) from ergonomic analysis and intervention. A Harvard University report that was published in the journal Health Affairs found that the average medical cost savings per dollar invested in wellness programs was $3.27 — a 327 percent ROI.
A Department of Labor Industries study in Washington state found that when 4,000 employees received ergonomic assessments and furniture changes, the general outcomes were reduced discomforts. More specifically, the outcomes included:
—A 4 percent decrease in absenteeism;
—A 25 percent decrease in work errors;
—A 60 percent increase in time on tasks.
In addition, in a payback period of four months, results from the Washington state study included:
—A 91 percent decrease in lost work days;
—An 80 percent decrease in workers’ compensation costs;
—A 12 percent increase in productivity.
Drawing ergonomics conclusions
With Meadows, Henry observed her workspace and made an assessment that concluded in part that she was reaching too far for her computer. That put stress on her shoulder blades because they were carrying the weight of her arms over an 8 hour work day. Similar to Taylor, her chair was adjusted too low and resulted in stressful reaching. To solve the problem, she switched to a nearby office chair that allowed her to sit with her arms in a better position.
He advised her to keep her work close to her to reduce any unnecessary reaching. If you’re using something a lot, then keep it close, Henry said.
He also suggested counter-strain movement, or moving muscles in the opposite direction that Meadows was using them during breaks. “Moving in the opposite direction of the sustained position during micro-breaks really helps with muscle recovery,” Henry said.
For Meadows, the improvement was fast thanks to Henry’s work.
“I thought the ergonomics assessment was very interesting and informative,” she said. “I am glad that I was able to participate since it was my first time hearing and experiencing that particular type of assessment. I am still sitting in my new chair and I feel more comfortable while doing my work.”
For Henry, his work is about empowerment.
“My mode of operation,” he told the Sera-Brynn employees, “is to empower you to make all the decisions, to give you the tools and the education to make the changes you need to make to work comfortably.”