Ergonomics: A Money-Maker Or AN Investment For Your Business?

In this blog, Ben takes a look at the importance of movement in the work place and the relevant lack of evidence to support ergonomics.

My favourite quote from an industry leading expert on ergonomics is from Leon Straker, a Distinguished Professor at Curtin University and the British National Health Service’s first ergonomist states “People often ask me ‘what’s the best ergonomic chair?’, and I say, ‘a wooden church bench’. Because you’ll feel so uncomfortable that you’ll have to get up after a half-hour.”

It baffles me that multi-million-euro industries are promoting healthy working environments by spending thousands of euros each year on specific equipment and assessments carried out by ergonomic experts/therapists. It has almost become the ethical option for all employee’s as it’s the easiest but most expensive solution. Ergonomists all over the world are often used as expert witnesses to decide court cases with their un-scientific based opinion on work place injury claims. This industry is however not scientifically based and lacks any quality evidence to prove the multitudes of recommendations it makes to companies all over the world.

The physiotherapy profession has historically been closely linked to ergonomics interventions which clearly lack scientific evidence base and thus should not be strictly adhered to in an evidence-based health care profession such as physiotherapy.

Yet, as chartered Physiotherapist’s we pride ourselves on being strictly evidence based with our interventions in our daily practice. To me as a profession it is vitally important for us to distance ourselves from giving such advise in our clinical treatment every day.

It is estimated that in Australia there are only 82 people qualified to call themselves ergonomists and a further 250 full members qualified to practice ergonomically, yet there are thousands of people carrying out ergonomics assessments each year. The term “Ergonomist” is not a protected title so is therefore used indiscriminately around the world by a multitude of other professionals with no training what so ever. The Australian Office supply market which provides ergonomic equipment for industries is tipped to generate over 10 billion Australian Dollars in revenue this year alone, yet the equipment they provide has very little scientific evidence to prove it is any way beneficial. In fact, there are numerous research articles starting to emerge on the possibly of these ergonomically adept pieces of office furniture often being harmful for your musculoskeletal health.

A highly regarded and esteemed professor of Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy in Curtain University Australia, Prof Peter O’Sullivan has recently scoffed at the quality and lack of evidence to support ergonomics as an intervention and stated that “the industry is built like a house of cards with no scientific foundation”.

A recent Cochrane review on multitudes of studies on the benefits of ergonomics in the workplace found the only possible benefits for carpel tunnel, arm and neck/shoulder pain is the use of an alternative mouse with a shoulder support to POSSIBLY reduced the risk of neck and shoulder pain in the workplace. The Cochrane Reviews are a highly respected method of compiling evidence from large numbers of studies. It took the Cochrane review five attempts at compiling relative research to come to this small POSSIBLE benefit and other than this there was no strong evidence to prove that any ergonomics-based applications improve musculoskeletal dysfunction in the work place. Concluding that there was little or no quality evidence to prove work station adjustments, ergonomics training, specific monitors, chairs etc affect neck, shoulder or lumbar spine pain/dysfunction. It appears that the little evidence out there that does indicate a benefit to such ergonomics equipment is of very poor quality and once these poor-quality pieces of research are removed the remainder of the high-quality research proves that there is little or no effect.

Professor O’Sullivan calls ergonomics “the science of belief”. “You can have pain associated with sitting, but it does not mean the way you sit has caused it.

The evidence, as I have seen it, suggests ergonomic interventions are no more effective than non-ergonomic interventions. They have not reduced the burden of back and neck pain. It promotes the idea there is a correct way to sit – that’s just rubbish. There is no correct way to sit”. Our simple approach here in Platinum to posture and ergonomics is to advise patients to get up and get moving as often as possible in their working day. There is no ideal posture or ergonomics in normal life or in your working environment. The answer is three-fold simply Exercise, Movement and Awareness. Professor Maher one of the worlds leading back pain researchers’ echoes this sentiment and states “People still think about fancy chairs, fancy desks. If you’re going to invest in trying to cut back pain, your best bet is to do … exercises. That’s the only thing that’s got evidence for it.”

Even those who are considered Ergonomics experts such as Leon Straker agree that movement is the key to improve overall musculoskeletal health in the working environment. Current research suggests that we need to move in some way for at least seven minutes of every 30 minutes we sit. This research is all well and good, however it is not always feasible but simple solutions like moving between a sitting, perching and standing posture whilst working and getting out for a walk or an exercise class during your tea or lunch break helps to prevent overloading of the musculoskeletal system.

Here at Platinum Pilates and Physiotherapy we think we have the answer. Why not save your company thousands of euros on complex so called ergonomically adept equipment and simply avail of our free Corporate wellness class for you and 11 of your colleagues?

Reformer Pilates is an amazing way to reset and desensitise the neuromuscular system and to incorporate complex movement patterns into your daily exercise routine in safe and professional environment. We have early morning/lunch time and evening classes across all of our clinics and chartered physiotherapists at hand to assess any ongoing pain or dysfunction. If this doesn’t work for your company fear not, we also provide work place seminars with our specialist-chartered Physiotherapists and Pilates & movement experts to help improve awareness of simple exercise and movements which you can incorporate into your daily working environment.

The easiest thing to do is ignore the research and spend thousands of euro’s kitting out your office with ineffective equipment, the right thing to do is to implement a culture of wellness and change to allow you and your colleagues to improve your exercise capacity, movement and postural awareness. Not only will this improve your company’s overall wellness and health it will also reduce the amount of sick days in your working environment improving staff morale and productivity. Statistics don’t lie; in the UK in 2013 30,600,000 staff sick days were taken and up to 80% of the Irish population have reported severe low back pain which has caused them to take time off work at some stage in their careers.

If you, your Colleagues or company are interested in not becoming part of the statistics please contact our Corporate team on 012789313 or email Damy Redmond on to enquire about our corporate packages and upcoming events.