January 2018 Newsletter:

Making Sense of the Term "Ergonomic"

In almost any product category – chairs, tools, even toothbrushes –

there's rarely a shortage of products claiming to be "ergonomic."


In a world where choices are plentiful, it is no wonder that determining which pieces of ergonomic equipment are the right fit for your office workers is overwhelming. Nearly any keyboard, mouse, or chair claims to be “ergonomic” but does this mean you should purchase it for your employees when they begin to report symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)?

The term ‘ergonomic’ has found its way onto a massive variety of products, many of which are minimally helpful in reducing discomfort that can be experienced when performing computer work. Here are examples of how the term ergonomic has been misused :

  • Describing features as ergonomic to increase a company’s web presence (i.e. keyword searches suggest this is a company that makes ergonomic products).
  • Having detailing that appeals to females, because they are more likely to make changes to their workstation, and labelling it as ergonomic.
  • Any product that is different than the standard model. This can be differences in its size, shape or button placement, and often has nothing to do with making the user experience better.

For something to be ergonomic, it must fit well with your employees’ anthropometrics, that is body size and shape. It should help them achieve neutral postures in their work environment. The equipment would also allow for easy adjustment to suit your employees’ needs (i.e. right- vs. left-handedness, sitting vs. standing). Most importantly, the equipment should address discomfort the user is experiencing and won’t contribute to the development of something else in the future. Let’s look at an example to clarify these points:

It's a statement we still hear often:

“Engage your core while working at your computer with this ergonomically-designed seat. Modern computer chairs pale in comparison as they encourage sedentary seated postures.”

Is this chair ergonomic ? Very simply, no.

  1. A ball cannot be adjusted to fit employees seated stature, nor will it allow for adjustments to align with their keyboard or monitor, which are integral to complying with the CSA Z412 Office Ergonomic Standard.
  2. There are no supporting structures with the ball that will allow for the body to maintain a neutral posture once they become fatigued. In fact, the awkward postures often become exaggerated because the pelvis can roll back on the ball creating increased disc pressure along the entire spinal column rather than just the lumbar vertebrae.
  3. The lumbar support is not adjustable (even if you put it in a chair-like holder) thus there is no support for those compromised lumbar vertebrae which “flatten” when we sit.

Don’t fall into the trap of buying something that isn’t ergonomic. Educate yourself on the features your equipment needs to have and go looking specifically for products that address that need.

Still not sure? Consider enlisting the services of a Professional Ergonomist to perform an Office Ergonomic Assessment. This assessment should be done by a non-partial individual who will objectively identify any areas that are not in compliance with the CSA Z412 Office Ergonomic Standard and recommend TRIED and TRUE ergonomic equipment to alleviate and prevent the symptoms of MSDs, keeping your employees happy and productive.

Visit our Office Ergonomic Assessment page

If you need an office ergonomic assessment conducted at your workplace, let us help!

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