Human factors are the physical and mental performance of people
Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl

How can ergonomic and human factors have a positive influence on well-being in today’s office?

 

Human factors are mainly understood as the physical and mental performance of people. In combination with the ergonomic factors, the effects of the interactions of people amongst themselves, as well as between people and objects are shown. Ergonomics aims to improve well-being and optimize performance.

An important aspect of human factors is the reduction of failure or incorrect behavior and the increase and improvement of safety, comfort and productivity.

An example of this can be found in civil aviation. After a number of serious crashes occurred in the early days of jet aircraft, human factors were examined more closely, and far-reaching measures were introduced that revolutionized the entire aviation industry. Today, statistics clearly demonstrate that flying is the safest means of transportation.

The ergonomic and human factors have very far-reaching effects, which I cannot go into in detail here, as this would fill a whole book of information. Instead, I will focus mainly on the physical ergonomics in connection with the human factors and their application in everyday office life. In doing so, I want to show the benefits that can be derived from this.

 

What should we pay attention to in terms of posture and ergonomics at the workplace?

adapting objects and processes to human ergonomics

There is practically no workplace where health risks do not lurk. To avoid these risks, it is crucial that the work equipment and the workplace can adapt to human ergonomics and their needs.

The focus is on people as the main factor, not objects. By adapting objects and processes to human ergonomics, not only is safety improved, but also there is an increase in productivity and an increase in motivation, which ultimately fosters greater well-being.

The International Ergonomics Association (IEA) has divided ergonomics into three main areas:

  • Physical Ergonomics (anatomy)
  • Cognitive ergonomics (perception, thinking, recognition)
  • Organizational ergonomics (working hours, procedures, breaks)

 

The requirements for ergonomic products and their use in the workplace should take this ergonomic mix into account, resulting in greater well-being for the user. Usually, this also increases cost-effectiveness.

A central focus of this mix is workplace posture and ergonomics. First and foremost, an ergonomic interior design should be implemented. Minor changes can be effected relatively easily whereas larger adjustments require a certain budget and more profound changes in the edifice.

When creating an Ergonomic Optimal Workplace, you should first consider the following three basic components which enable the ergonomic and human factors to have the best positive influence on well-being.

 

Basic aspects for ergonomics interior design
  • Light
  • Acoustics
  • Indoor climate

artificial light comes very close to daylight and guarantees optimal lighting for any workplace most disturbing source of noise in offices indoor climate in an office or home office

Light

Daylight has many advantages and promotes better performance as well as motivation. If possible, place your workplace near a window. However, make sure that your desk is positioned at a right angle to the window so that the light comes in from the side. This will help you to avoid glare and annoying reflections on the screen.

If a favorable position for your office desk is not available, you can use blinds or shades to minimize annoying reflections from the sun. You can also cover the window with a reflective film, but this reduces the overall light incidence. However, it can be of great benefit especially in the summer or on warm days. I know of cases where the application of such reflective film eliminated the need for the air conditioning

Today, artificial light comes very close to daylight and guarantees optimal lighting for any workplace. There are several important considerations here as well.

Avoid a too great light difference between the working area and the rest of the environment. Ensure that the light facilitates an ergonomic interior design without creating a monotonal room impression.

Both sunlight and artificial light can dazzle and create reflections on the monitor. You should take this into consideration and if necessary, move the desk or place the light sources differently.

The colors of the walls, ceilings, floors and objects in the room also have a significant influence on the reflection of light. The lighter the colors, the better the light is reflected. With dark walls, for example, you’ll have to use a lot more light to get the level of illumination you need.

Often, the standard light source provides insufficient illumination. This can be easily remedied with additional lamps.

Best is indirect lighting in combination with direct light. Floor lamps are very useful and can be placed next to the desk and will provide a combination of direct and indirect lighting. Ideally, the light intensity could also be controlled. This way, you are guaranteed to create ergonomic lighting conditions for yourself.

If you already have relatively good lighting, but need more light on your documents, a task light can serve you well here.

Ideally, your office workplace combines daylight and artificial light, which falls both directly and indirectly, as well as selectively.

office workplace combines daylight and artificial light

Always make sure that your light source does not create any disturbing shadows on your work area and that none of the light sources flicker.

 

Acoustics

The most disturbing source of noise in offices is not the sound of the printer or the clattering of keyboards, nor the ringing of telephones, but quite simply human speech! When two people are talking normally to each other, a sound level of approx. 60 dB(A) is generated. Here, the information content of these conversations is the main source of disturbance, which leads to distraction and lack of concentration.

sound level should be a maximum of 55 dB(A)

According to experts, the recommended average value of the sound level should be a maximum of 55 dB(A), and in the case of high mental concentration demands, this value should be even lower.

Noise can make you ill and reduce your effectiveness at a computer workstation. Although noise is perceived differently, many people become stressed and dissatisfied by it.

Excessive reverberation (simply sound persisting as a result of repeated reflection or scattering) increases noise pollution in a room and is perceived as annoying and unpleasant.

Try to utilize ergonomic interior design to reduce reverberation. In this way, you can significantly increase the sense of well-being in the office.

 

Well suited for the reduction of reverberations are:

  • thick carpets
  • curtains
  • textile surfaces (office chairs, wall hangings)
  • furniture and larger plants

 

Often it is difficult to dampen these sound waves and their reverberations with the above-mentioned means. There are various soundproofing solutions on the market. These can be sound absorbing foam panels or professional sound insulators, which are placed on the floor, hung on the wall or even fixed to the ceiling. In open-plan offices, sound reducing separators can placed on, in front of, or next to the desk.

If you are looking for an optimal ergonomic solution or if you have complex acoustic situations, it is best to contact a professional sound consultant.

 

Indoor climate

indoor climate in an office or home office

The indoor climate in an office or home office is mainly influenced by three factors:

  • temperature
  • air quality
  • air humidity

 

An ideal room temperature is 21°C (70 Fahrenheit), although this is perceived slightly differently by each individual. The optimal temperature at an office workplace should be between 18-24°C (64-75 Fahrenheit).

The quality of the air is mainly influenced by the carbon dioxide content (CO2) and the number of pollutants, as well as fine dust and other microparticles.

Too much carbon dioxide (CO2), when there is too little oxygen in the air, causes various ailments, such as headaches, feelings of exhaustion, lack of concentration and can accelerate various ailments. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is mainly produced when several people are in a closed room for a long time and fresh air is not added. Less oxygen is exhaled than inhaled. The oxygen therefore slowly becomes consumed. Regular ventilation of the room helps to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2). If you have a central ventilation system, the air quality can be influenced with filters. Carbon dioxide measuring devices, which measure the CO2 level provide reliable information about the current air quality in your room and are readily available at affordable prices.

The pollutants in the air can be caused by office equipment, such as printers, copiers or other machines. In general, in modern office buildings, the level of pollutants is very low. A nasty source of pollutants is smoking. Since this is now banned in public buildings, smoking in the home office should also be avoided. If you must smoke, do it outside.

Plants are a wonder weapon against too high CO2 concentrations. Not only can they produce supplemental oxygen, but certain plants also have the unique ability to filter pollutants from the air. The top plants with these phenomenal properties include, for example, monocot (Spathiphyllum), bow hemp (Sansevieria) or ivy (Hedera Helix).

Some garden centers will specify which plants produce particularly high levels of oxygen. Air-purifying plants contribute significantly to a healthy indoor climate.

Odors can also influence the quality of the air and the related well-being. Meals with odors should not be eaten directly at the workplace so as not to pollute the quality of the air and annoy co-workers.

The humidity in many offices is too low. This often causes irritation to the eyes or dry nostrils, making the mouth feel rough and uncomfortable. Plants can also perform good service here, as they return about 90% of the watering water to their surroundings. Ventilation can also have a positive effect on humidity.

If the air is permanently dry, a humidifier should be used, or the central ventilation system should be adjusted accordingly.

With a hygrometer (humidity meter) it is easy to determine the air humidity. The ideal value is between 40-60% humidity. If an air conditioner is used, the humidity may reach 70%. The ideal value would be an average of 50%.

 

An ergonomic optimized workplace

creation of a suitable workplace, taking human factors into account

Since these basic elements have laid the foundation for an ergonomically optimal workplace, we can now begin to fine-tune the creation of a suitable workplace, taking human factors into account.

The four main components are:

  • office chair
  • work table
  • work equipment (screen, keyboard, mouse)
  • ergonomic aids

 

Office chair

The human body is not built to sit for hours on end. Some studies even claim that sitting is more harmful than smoking. Nevertheless, the reality is that modern people spend many hours sitting every day.  The corresponding health concerns are quite significant.

Ergonomic research has provided various solutions and preventive measures to protect health.

For an office chair, these key points should be taken into account:

  1. Ensure that the seat has sufficient cushioning and that you do not have to sit on a hard surface which can impair blood circulation and in worst case, lead to thrombosis.
  2. Make sure you have the correct casters on your office chair. For hard floors (stone, parquet, tile, etc.), use soft casters (a soft, usually gray, rubber-like covering); for soft floors (carpet, cork, etc.), use hard casters (made of a hard plastic).
  3. Sit in your office chair so that your back is touching the backrest. Adjust the depth of the seat if necessary. If your chair does not have this feature, place a small pillow or rolled up towel between your back and the backrest to support your back. The back of your knees should not touch the seat cushion, there should be a few finger-widths of space between the back of the cushion and the back of your knees.
  4. To have an anatomically advantageous sitting posture, you should adjust the height of the chair so that your thighs are horizontal or slightly higher than your knees. So, an angle of at least 90° or more. Your feet should be flat on the floor.
  5. If you use armrests, adjust their height so that when your shoulders are relaxed, your forearms rest at a right angle on the armrests in relation to your upper arms.
  6. Make sure your backrest has good support, especially in the lumbar area (lower back), so that your spine is kept in its natural S-shape and does not fall into a hunched back. If you have too little support in the lower back, you can help yourself with a small pillow or a rolled-up towel. This support in the girdle area relieves pressure on the intervertebral discs and can prevent the formation of back damage. This is a major flaw of many office chairs. Ideally, you should adjust the height of your backrest to provide optimum support in the lumbar region and shoulder area.
  7. Try to sit in your chair as dynamically as possible. This means do not lock the backrest of your chair but leave it in a flexible mode. Movement is one of the best preventive measures to avoid back problems. Moving your back keeps your intervertebral discs supple, further activates the nerves in your spine, and helps your back muscles.
  8. Take frequent breaks and stand up often. Move around a bit in your office or take a short walk in the fresh air. Alternating between sitting, standing and moving is a healthy combination to keep your back fit and preserve your health.

If you would like more information about office chairs, here is another article of mine, entitled “How Important Is An Ergonomic Desk Chair In these Covid Times?”

 

Desk

The desk should be adjustable in height to synchronize with the office chair settings described above. Keep in mind the following two points when adjusting your office desk:

  1. Sit in your office chair as described above and now adjust the height of the desk so that when you are in a sitting position, with relaxed shoulders and hanging arms, you form a 90° angle with your forearms in relation to the upper arm. The forearms should now rest horizontally on the desk surface. This will give you an ideal table height in relation to your overall seated posture.
  2. Make sure you have enough clearance under the office desk with your legs and are not bumping into anything. Often hanging cables, waste garbage cans or drawers are an obstacle to your legs. This can lead to posture problems in the long run, as your body automatically tries to avoid these obstacles, resulting in an unnatural posture. If your desk cannot be adjusted for height, you can still raise it with the aid of bricks or wooden blocks. This is especially recommended for taller people. However, always make sure that the office desk is stable and that there is no danger of it tipping over.
  3. Sit-to-stand height-adjustable desks offer a special added value in coordinating the ergonomic and human factors. Alternating between sitting and standing is very healthy.
  4. If you do not have a height-adjustable table, but would like to work standing up, there are also mobile table attachments. These can simply be placed on the existing office desk and, if necessary, folded up and adjusted in height. Larger table attachments are ideal here, so that everything required has space and the screen distance is maintained.

 

Work equipment

Work equipment in an office workplace includes all equipment that is required to perform daily work. It should support human ergonomics and have a positive influence on workplace posture and ergonomics. These are in particular:

  1. The monitor. It should be adjusted so that the top edge of the monitor is about a finger’s width below the center of your eyes. When checking this, sit at the workstation in your normal position, the position you have during the performance of your work. The distance of the computer monitor should be such that you can touch the monitor with your fingertips when your arms are outstretched. Also, make sure the monitor is centered in front of you, not too much to the left or right, or even at an angle from your working position. A bad example is a corner desk, where the monitor is often in the corner and the person working has to constantly twist unnaturally. Avoid such non-ergonomic pitfalls! Since the issue of the monitor and its proper height adjustment is a major health issue, I have written a separate article on this topic: “The Big Ergonomic Issue About The Correct Screen Height”
  2. The keyboard. The keyboard should also be exactly centered in front of you on the desk, and on the same centerline as your monitor. If you have a keyboard with an integrated numeric keypad, make sure that the entire keyboard is not centered in front of you, and that the letter keys for typing are not too much to the left. If necessary, move the keyboard according to the typing tasks. For example, if you have to do a lot of accounting work and mainly need the number keys, move the keyboard a bit to the left so that your shoulders don’t have to twist unnaturally. The distance between the keyboard and your body should be such that there is approximately a hand’s width between the edge of the desk and the keyboard. An ergonomic keyboard takes a bit of getting used to, but is absolutely sensible, especially for those who spend many hours a day typing. It can enable them to work more efficiently and effectively and, above all, more painlessly.
  3. The mouse. The mouse should be placed in front of you in such a way that when you are sitting in a relaxed position, your forearm does not twist outward from your shoulder in an unnatural way. Often the mouse is used too far to the right (for right-handers), which can lead to shoulder tension over time. Also, the mouse should not be used too close to the monitor, as you will have to bend forward too much in such a position. With a regular mouse, use a wrist support or mouse pad so you don’t run the risk of tendonitis. The wrist pad should be about one to two finger thicknesses high so that there is no unnatural bend between the forearm and wrist when working with the mouse. Vertical mice are highly recommended, as here the wrist is already in a natural and ergonomic position without additional aids.

 

Ergonomic accessories

As already explained with the mouse, there are interesting and ingenious ergonomic accessories like wrist rests available for little money. Such wrist rests or pads are also available for the keyboard, which can prevent many wrist ailments. You can find a detailed article of mine about this important topic of wrist rests, titled “Are Ergonomic Wrist Rests For Keyboards And Mice Really Useful?”

Another useful ergonomic tool is the document holder. This serves people who have to do a lot of typing work from documents. The documents are placed between the keyboard and the screen on an appropriate slightly inclined document holder.

Very useful are notebook stands that put your laptop or notebook in an ergonomic position. Resting a notebook directly on the desk is not recommended, especially if you work with it for several hours a day. You will need an external keyboard and mouse when using a notebook stand. Again, this relatively small investment reaps immense comfort.

Other ergonomic aids can be monitor mounts, especially if you have to move your screen several times a day or are working with multiple monitors at the same time.

If you don’t have armrests on your office chair, you can find a solution with an external armrest which is a kind of board with upholstery. It can be attached to the desk and relieves the shoulders comfortably.

Provided that you work standing a lot, a standing aid can be of good use to provide some relief to your legs.

For small people, a footrest is helpful so that the feet have contact with the floor and thus rest ergonomically.

A simple drinking glass or bottle can be an aid that should not be underestimated. Place this within easy reach so that you can keep drinking while you work. Since sugar has several harmful effects, drink only unsweetened beverages, preferably water. Refill your drinking container several times a day so you never have to reach for the empty one.

 

Final thoughts

Since ergonomic and human factors include not only physical ergonomics (anatomy), but also cognitive ergonomics (perception, thinking, cognition) and organizational ergonomics (working hours, procedures, breaks), well-being in the office is subject to a wide variety of influences.

Certainly, physical ergonomics and organizational ergonomics have a central effect on general well-being. With the points described above, a variety of measures and solutions are presented in relation to posture and ergonomics at the workplace, as well as ergonomic interior design. Your well-being in the office is certainly positively influenced by implementing these points. As so often in life, it depends on becoming aware of the current situation and taking steps to change it. Don’t delay, note an appointment in your agenda right now to clear the way for a better quality of life.

If you are interested in more tips about well-being in the office, you will find many suggestions in my book “Wellness in the Office”.

wellness in the office 50 + 1 tips
50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise

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Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl comes from Switzerland and is an ergonomics expert. For more than 20 years he has been offering many solutions with different products and many tips to provide more quality of life and a greater sense of well-being. SANTERGO is a special piece of this mosaic.