Workplace Wellness

Ergonomics: From nice-to-have to have-to-have

Read Time: 3 min
Poor workplace design can lead to poor health and poor productivity, and a South Africa’s Draft Ergonomics Regulations want to prevent this by placing the focus on ergonomics.

Prevention is better than cure

Whether it’s an office workstation, a restaurant, factory floor or any of the multitude of other places where we earn our keep, work is a place where many people spend a lot of their time. So, it’s a good thing that regulations around workplace ergonomics will become more prominent – with the addition of important new regulations to the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.

‘By including the draft ergonomics regulations into the OHS Act, employers will be required to start addressing ergonomic risk factors which are known to result in work-related injuries,’ says Doctor Jessica Hutchings, President of the Ergonomics Society of South Africa (ESSA). 

‘The regulations are a good start. However, they do not address the science of ergonomics is its entirety, as they mostly address the physical and some of the organisational domains of ergonomics, but include very little on the cognitive domains’.

Work-related musculoskeletal injuries on the rise

With regards to office ergonomics, the workstation in most offices is relatively consistent in that it comprises a desk, chair and computer – Sally Claasen, Deputy Director: Occupational Health and Safety in the Western Cape Government, stresses that factors such as office noise, lighting and temperature can also impact an employee’s performance. And these environmental stressors may also impact industrial/manufacturing workplaces. 

‘Ergonomics promotes a holistic approach in optimising wellbeing at work and overall systems performance by considering physical, cognitive, social, organisational and environmental factors,’ she says.

The benefits of sound ergonomics principles in the workplace, including improved employee health and wellness as well as greater productivity and efficiency, are well documented in countries such as the United States and Europe. ‘Understanding workplace ergonomics hazards – and addressing them – is critical in terms of preventative occupational health. It can prevent illnesses, injuries, accidents and ill health in the workplace,’ says Claasen. 

Urvashi Ramjee, Head of Claims Management: Old Mutual, is in agreement and cites the example of a company whose ergonomists have analysed the health profile and claims history of their employees and found that many claims were related to back and neck injuries. They subsequently developed and initiated a focused intervention which improved employees’ health in an attempt to reduce the number of claims. Assess, understand and remedy

The draft Ergonomics Regulations specify that employers should develop ergonomics programmes that include training, risk assessment and risk reduction strategies. ‘Implementing such a programme will allow employers to put measures in place to identify and address ergonomic risk factors and develop a preventive approach to occupational health management, as opposed to a reactive one,’ says Hutchings. ‘An understanding of ergonomics should also play a pivotal role in the investigation of workplace accidents to determine what risk factors contributed to an incident. Regular risk assessments (also specified by the regulations) will further prevent workplace accidents.’

What happens in the event of an injury?

If an employee is unable to work due to an ergonomics-related injury, the way this is managed, Hutchings says, will depend on the applicable legislation, the employer, their human resource policies, the nature and diagnosis of the injury and the employer’s disability process, and where applicable the policy of insurance applicable at the time. 

If it’s a long absence from work, Old Mutual Group Assurance’s Well4Work offers flexible, affordable income protection to help employees get back to earning a living – quickly and safely. From Two-Year Income Protection through to Full-Term Income Protection, Well4Work offers affordable cover without reducing the quality of the income protection.

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