Ergonomics is becoming one of the most important aspects of administrative management. Since the introduction of computers, offices are becoming more technologically based. Employees are spending greater amounts of time in the office and therefore must be comfortable to remain productive.
Workers that feel stressed and do not like their work environments lose morale and spend more time away from the office than usual. Furniture, climate, training procedures, lighting and many more aspects are related to ergonomics in the office and clerical based environments.
Keeling and Kallaus (1996;384) says that office furniture and equipment has traditionally been manufactured and used with a view of using efficient office space and cost saving. Although these factors are vital to work within the budget, managers fails to consider the ergonomics need of the employees. Sleeth (1996;10) defines ergonomics as a study of the office environment to allows employees to work productively. Ergonomically designed work environment that takes into consideration both psychological and physical needs increases job satisfaction and prevents injuries (Hess:1996;28).
Troyer (1996;20) says that employers have become extremely concerned about potential discomforts associated with extended use of repetitive duty on computers and other office equipment. These discomforts can cause serious bodily injuries and force organisation to lose millions of dollars in loss hours of work, hospital cost and workers’ compensation claim. Organisation became aware of the high cost associated with injuries therefore ergonomic furniture and equipment became an important issue in the work place. Ergonomic furniture and equipment is an important issue that management should consider because it decreases the medical cost, insurance cost associated with injuries and also increases worker’s efficiency in the workplace (Allie;1996;20).
Keeling and Kallaus (1996;384) says that in order to consider the ergonomic furniture and equipment for the office, the manager must firstly understand the type of work being performed and the ergonomics needs of the employees. Allie (1996) argues that it is also vital to educate employees about ergonomics, provide proper adjustable furniture and equipment. Managers should also understand employees needs and ways to help them work more safely. Troyer (1996;20) states that it is difficult to really determine which furniture and equipment will provide the ergonomic needs for the employees. The author suggests that when evaluating whether certain furniture and equipment can provide the necessary ergonomic need, it is important to find out how the manufacturer design their products. It is important to consider whether the manufacturers uses ergonomics expert, is the product adjustable, does the product provide comforts for the eyes, neck, wrist and back. It is also vital to find out how the manufacturer test the claims they make for their products and the manufactures reputation for making ergonomics product. When buying office furniture and equipment, the purchases that gets the most investigation and examination are usually the one that will last longer.
Keeling and Kallaus (1996;386) suggests that when selecting office furniture the following must be taken into consideration, firstly, it should provide adequate safety and comforts to the employees. Secondly, it should be made of good quality materials, build strongly and provide ease for the work to be done. Thirdly the furniture should be adjustable and can be used for different purposes. Finally it should meet the preferences of all the employees who are going to use them.
For example when the organisation is looking for chairs for its employees, the key factors management should consider is adjustability. Marston (1996;39) mentions that an ergonomic chairs should able to be adjusted up and down according to the desired height, should have lumbar and arms support, comfortable cushioning, provide backward or forward tilt and the adjustment can be easily made by anyone using the chairs. Beside providing ergonomically design furniture, a variety of office equipment are also required. Equipment such as photocopying, telephones, facsimile and computers. These office equipment facilitate the office task in less time and with greater accuracy (Keeling and Kallaus:1996;391).
The guideline provided by Keeling and Kallaus for selecting office equipment, is firstly, the equipment should be made available to employees if it makes their job more efficient. For example in selecting between a typewriter and a computer, the computer will be more faster and efficient than the typewriter but the cost would be higher. In the long term the computer will save the organisation in hours of working time. Secondly, equipment should be considered when they are simple to operate, flexible to use in different situations, easy to move around and be able to adapt to existing office. Thirdly, the equipment that are less expensive and the availability of reliable maintenance service should be selected in place of other equipment. Fourthly, the rates of accuracy that the equipment will provide must also be taken into consideration. Finally the things that the equipment can do and also its limitations also need to be considered.
The air environment refers to the total atmosphere created in the office by the principal air factors. They are temperature, humidity, circulation (ventilation) and cleanliness. It is used the term air-conditioned office literally. it is an office where the air has been carefully conditioned for human comfort, including the control of temperature, humidity and cleanliness. Workers consider the air environment, especially air circulation and the right temperature as very important to their jobs. It properly maintained air environment improves mental activity. boosts efficiency, increase productivity and decreases absenteeism.
On the other hand, stale, dry and dusty air dulls the mind and reduces the output of work. Moreover, according to Labar, most indoor air problems involve the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Due to it was not designed and installed properly, is not being adequately maintained or is simply wearing out. According to a survey of 4300 workers in 47 buildings performed by Building Use Studies, 34 per cent of the workers described the air in their offices as uncomfortably dry, hot or stuffy, over 50 per cent reported symptoms such as lethargy, headaches or eye, nose or throat irritation while at work, and 25 per cent felt that the working condition reduced their productivity over 20 per cent. (Journal of General Management, 1992)
Temperature refers to the relative hotness or coolness of the air measured in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius. If the temperature too hot or too cold in a office environment this can interfere with productivity thorough sickness of the worker. the American Society of Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Engineers suggest that the most comfortable and healthful temperature for work is below 70o F. With normal office activities, such as lighting, heat from computers, body temperature increase discomfort to the operators. The heating or thermal environment is the result of a proper balance in temperature, humidity and air motion. Humidity Relative humidity refers to the percentage of moisture in the air. Air conditioning equipment removes moisture form the air (dehumidifies) during the summer months and may add moisture to the air (humidify) during the winder months. A high relative humidity makes us feel colder on a cold day and warmer on a hot day. Furthermore, too little humidity causes magnetic tapes and disks to stick during processing operations and brings about errors. Too much humidity also produces condensation on the electronic parts of the equipment and causes short-circuiting.
The air most be circulated to ensure that we do not become surrounded by air that approaches skin temperature and saturation point. In general, we should be provided 12 to 15 cubic meters of outside air per person per hour (L. Keeling & N. Kallaus, 1996). Even though the temperature is high, this type of circulated air feels cool because it speeds up the evaporation of body moisture. Common methods of keeping air in motion are vent fans and blowers.
The complete air-conditioning system cleans the air of undesirable pollutants. Health problems associated with indoor air pollution make up what is known as the sick building syndrome (SBS). Some of the symptoms of SBS are headaches, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry or itchy skin, dizziness and nausea, fatigue, sensitivity to odours, memory and cognitive lapses and Legionnaire’s disease. Over the years, there have been a couple of serious outbreaks of building related-illness, including 29 deaths from Legionnaire’s disease in Philadelphia hotel in 1976. There are also instances where poor ventilation and/or specific environmental contaminants have resulted in lesser but nonetheless adverse health effects. (G. Labar, 1992 Oct.) According to the EPA, Indoor air pollution results in at least $60 billion in losses nationally from missed workdays ever year. (J. P. Zmirak, 1993)
Scientific measurements of the air confirmed an 80 percent reduction in the number of lung-damaging airborne particulate. Forty percent of the workers felt their productivity would be enhanced by the air-quality improvements and absenteeism has dropped 3 percent. (J. P. Zmirak, 1993) Most offices are tightly sealed and don not allow fresh air in or stale air out. Computers heat the place up and act as dust magnets, while the fumes of chemical glues seep out of carpeting and walls to create a stuffy, toxic atmosphere like inorganic pea soup. (J. P. Zmirak, 1993) An HVAC system inspection should include checking filters, drip pans, drainage piping, heating and cooling coils, outdoor air intakes, supply diffusers, return grilles, humidifiers and controls.
The inside of air ducts and plenums should be checked periodically for signs of rust, microbial growth or other contamination. (G. Labar, 1992 Oct.) Lighting An important part of creating an ergonomically sound work environment is to provide adequate and appropriate levels of lighting. This is due to the fact that good lighting lead to happier employees, greater levels of efficiency and ultimately increased profits. According to Andrew S. Nicholson, lighting is a common source of complaint in the modern office.
Poor lighting can lead to discomfort as a result of poor posture and eye strain, which in turn can lead to other problems such as irritability and tension. These problems however are not caused by dim lighting alone. Whilst poor lighting does lead to eye strain, light that is too bright may also cause a number of problems due to reflection off screens and so forth. In order to combat the problem of reflection, ambient lighting can be used. This is where uplights are used to direct light up and reflect it off the ceiling and onto other areas. Therefore it is important to provide the most appropriate level of light for the situation.
Whilst maintaining effective lighting one must also consider the costs involved. An important part of lighting the office is to use natural light (sunlight) as effectively as possible. It is necessary to let as much light as possible whilst blocking sunlight. According to Keeling and Kallaus, this can be achieved through the use of tinted windows, adjustable blinds and window screens that deflect sunlight and reduce glare. Studies show that workers prefer daylight to artificial light on the job. There are three types of artificial lighting that are used in office lighting. These are incandescent light, fluorescent light and high-intensity discharge lamps (Keeling and Kallaus p368). Incandescent light is a type of light that is commonly used in the home. It involves the use of a light bulb. This type of light is less expensive than the fluorescent light however they are not as efficient in providing the appropriate levels of lighting. Fluorescent lights are usually produced by long tube lamps. They only use a third of the electricity used by incandescent lights. They provide a more even distribution of light. High discharge lamps are the type of lights that are used in stadiums and streets. They allow for the intensity of light produced to be controlled for use in office lighting. The types of activities that require the most amount of lighting are drafting, charting and photographic work. Those areas that require a lower level of lighting are lobbies, reception areas and libraries.
The controlling of noise levels in the office environment is important in creating an environment that is ergonomically sound. There are two main facets to controlling noise levels in the office. The first of these is to reduce noise levels in environments where noise levels are too high. The other is too create a certain level of ‘noise’ where the office is completely is quiet. “A certain level of sound creates a healthy background and helps to set a tempo for the work to be accomplished” (Keeling p371). This should be audible enough to allow people to be productive while not being loud enough to distract them from their tasks. In the article “Here Ye Hear Ye Noise Guidelines Needed”, Walt Clawson offer ten guidelines for managing office noise:
This can be provided in the way of soft music. Ergonomics does not just involve computers, furniture and office equipment, it includes aspects such as employee age, time spent working with computers, training in ergonomics procedures and actual office design. Most valuable employees are relatively older than employees in training and as such are often overlooked. When designing an office, it is important to take into account the effects of aging and the increased care needed by such individuals.
According to (Materials Handling Engineering, Jun 1996) stature begins to decline after thirty years of age and flexibility and strength are significantly reduced after the age of forty five years. Lower back pains and hand problems are the main symptoms of a poorly designed office. A typist spends most of the day using a keyboard and therefore will experience hand problems in their lifetime. “Loss of hand function is the number one reason that a person enters a nursing home” (Materials Handling Engineering, Jun 1996). Experts say that people that spend more than four hours at a keyboard each day are most likely to suffer from some kind of repetitive strain injury, (Managing Office Technology, Jul 1996).
A natural straight posture during keying with the wrist laying horizontal is the best way to avoid such RSI’s. The mouse has to be kept as close to the keyboard as possible and can be rotated to each side of the keyboard to minimise dominant hand overuse. The introduction of computers into the workplace has reduced the need to move constantly and often leads to a more sedentary employee. This in turn produces higher levels of discomfort and reduces worker productivity. Sun Microsystems has mostly eliminated this problem with a series of training programs and employee inclusion when selecting furniture and computer components. Such training programs increased ergonomic awareness and resulted in three times as many symptom reports, (HE Solutions, Jun 1996).
This program has reduced injury rates, allowed for employee feedback, created a greater respect for management and generally increased employee productivity. Video display terminals are found in almost every office throughout the world and therefore must be examined when discussing ergonomics. Many older offices have considerably older computer desks that are dangerous for the eyes. The terminal is often placed too high and can result in eye strain and muscular complaints. Ideally the monitor should be placed 15 to 20 degrees above the horizontal line of sight and angled so the employees eyes are closer to the bottom of the screen than the top. The actual monitor should also be placed about 18 to 24 inches away from the user, (Electrical Apparatus, Nov 1996). Another cause of eye strain is the placement of reference material in conjunction to the computer terminal. Books and reports that are placed to the side force the employee to constantly turn their head and may result in stiffness of the back and neck muscles. One aspect often overlooked when using a computer is the position of the legs. If the legs are allowed to dangle, they can often ‘fall asleep’, which can lead to circulation problems in the future. Foot rests are a god way to resolve such a complaint. When designing a workstation, there are many aspects that must be considered if ergonomics is to be a contributing factor (HR Magazine, Aug 1996).
Adjustable furniture is an absolute must to allow for the difference in employee stature. A light dimmer system helps to reduce glare and eye strain. Bright carpets are considered by most to be ergonomically correct. A well cleaned ventilation system that brings in a plentiful supply of oxygen to eliminate ‘sick building syndrome’. Flexible ergonomic chairs that insist on a correct posture to reduce back and neck complaints. All such systems are likely to improve employee morale and increase productivity levels. Sick days will undoubtedly decline and employee enthusiasm will begin to climb. It is for these reasons that we consider ergonomics to be an essential factor when examining office and clerical environments.
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