Often ergonomists are brought in following a work-related musculoskeletal disorder to an employee to help determine contributing factors and appropriate resolutions or, after new furniture has been put into place to ensure employees are using it appropriately.

The greatest gains, however, can be made by using ergonomists in the up-front design process to work with those designing the facility in determining appropriate workstation components that will work together, as well as layout options and adjustability requirements that will support the needs of the end users. 

Changing surface “real-estate”

By assessing and understanding the needs of the employees and the constraints of their job tasks, recommended specifications can be provided by the ergonomist.  In the office environment, the move from the older, deep CRT screens to LCD screens allowed a reduction in the depth of surface needed.  More recently, however, many individuals are moving to very large size screens or a dual monitor set-up which is changing surface “real-estate” needs again. 

"Each component of the workstation influences the other." 

Research indicates that there is a conflict between the distance needed for field of view to see both screens without neck twisting and visual distance needed to be able to see the characters on the screen without leaning forward.  In addition, some individuals do well supporting the full forearm on the surface, provided it is at the appropriate height, but a surface depth that does not allow the monitors to be moved back to the best distance for the individual will prevent employees from using this strategy. 

Chairs need to have good adjustability to allow a wide range of fit and for those who want to support their forearms on the surface, the chair armrests must adjust low enough that they do not prevent the employee from pulling in close to the surface.  Overhead storage units that prevent a surface or monitors from being placed at the optimal height for the user can also be problematic. 

Each component of the workstation influences the other. 

Creating movement

Much media attention has been given to the detrimental effects of sitting over one’s lifetime and while some individuals will find standing initiates or aggravates certain musculoskeletal problems, particularly in the back and lower limbs, others will find the position changes beneficial.  Ergonomists can assist in determining whether there is a benefit for the organization and the appropriate range of height needed. 

The additional benefits of sit-stand, user-adjustable surfaces are that adjustments to the height can be made immediately in the case that an assessment is performed, the surface can be easily adjusted to suit a new employee and accessory items such as keyboard trays and footrests, are rarely needed.  It should be noted that both sitting and standing are largely non-moving positions and therefore frequent breaks are needed to walk and move about. 

Facilities design spaces that place printers away from the workstations and provide standing height surfaces in open areas over file storage which can help promote movement over the day.

Buyer beware, in Canada, the ergonomics profession is not regulated provincially or federally. The Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE) was therefore set-up to award the CCPE designation to individuals who have a degree and a minimum of 4 years of full time practice demonstrating competency in ergonomics as set by the International Ergonomics Association.  Those that are certified, are held to a code of ethics and must continue to maintain competency. The US equivalents are the CPE and CHFP designations.