Hot desk, green desk, no desk – how the economics of ergonomics is driving workplace change

Nov 8, 2017 Wellbeing

Sitting up straight and doing stretches at a standing desk– these are the images often conjured up by the word ergonomics but it is so much more. Leading experts tell us that sound ergonomic practices keep employees healthy, increase productivity in the long term and lessen the risk of workers’ compensation lawsuits.

According to Safe Work Australia, we spend over $60 billion annually on workplace injury. This means ergonomics is a big deal across big business; with substantial economic implications. The drive to reduce workplace injury is continuing to inform corporate wellness programs across the country. And it is fast becoming a growing requirement for the Facilities Management (FM) industry to address health and wellbeing in commercial buildings and tenancies.

Kirsty Angerer, Senior Ergonomist at Humanscale tells us that the aim of ergonomics is to increase safety, convenience and well-being for all. Speaking at the 2017 Total Facilities conference Kirsty discussed the latest trends in ergonomics and their impact on the FM industry. She explains that ergonomics (the science of carefully fitting workplaces and products to humans) is a rich source of information that can guide managers, architects and planners in enhancing the comfort, safety and utility of any facility.

How FMs are applying ergonomics in the built environment

Kirsty referred to the many hats FMs wear in their role which encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality of built environments by integrating people, place, process and technology.

FMs deal with ergonomics every day in terms of how they manage amenity generally including choosing better furniture, space planning, improved layout, better lighting, the management of noise and the movement of people.  When it comes to good ergonomic design within the office environment, there are obvious benefits, including improved comfort and productivity of the users and a reduction in injury risks. Good ergonomics impacts the bottom line.

Prevention is key

The old adage rings true in relation to workplace injuries – prevention is better than cure. Even when there is no lost time, Kirsty cites research which suggests that simply the presence of musculoskeletal symptoms may result in lowered productivity. FMs are not the gatekeepers of office wellness but they are required to ensure they are keeping up with the latest in ergonomics risk factors and with the current and growing trends some of which are outlined by Kirsty:

  • Activity Based Working or Agile Working
  • Sit Stand Desks
  • Biophelia (bringing nature into man-made spaces or vice versa aka green desking)
  • Multiple screens being used
  • Implementation of wellbeing programs
  • Smarter buildings

So what will our buildings and tenancies look like in the future? Kirsty expects that we will see much smarter buildings with sensors that capture important data on work patterns and people’s behaviours which will allow organisations to create business strategies with employees needs at the core of decision making. She also talks about how as a result of mobile working options the commercial sector is being revolutionised by other aspects of our industry including hospitality spaces and residential environments. Some sectors are even musing on the ‘no desk’ concept which could signal the end of the office as we know it.

What we do know is that by addressing the ergonomic risk factors FMs are helping businesses to reduce the incidence of injuries and illness in its workforce. This not only slices direct costs, but leaves the enterprise with healthier, happier, and more productive employees and tenants.

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