Is your office ‘average’?

Is your office ‘average’? And how about your staff or co-workers – are they ‘average’ too?

I’m asking purely from an ergonomic perspective and not for a judgement of character, although feel free to ponder this too if you must 🙂

The concept of ‘average’ is seemingly always there when I conduct an ergonomic assessment, however a few recent cases and a robust discussion I had with a client last week got me thinking a little more about this than usual. You see, in general, most offices are designed and constructed for the ‘average’ person, meaning that the equipment that has been installed during the initial fit out is chosen to accommodate ‘most’ people doing ‘common’ tasks. However, I bet if you looked around your workplace you would observe that there is more than one person that could be described as being outside of ‘average’ – perhaps they are a bit taller, or a bit larger, or have some sort of physical limitation that makes them a bit different to everyone else. And are they all doing the same (‘common’) type of work? How many monitors do they need? Working from documents or screens only?

And therein lies the problem of simply accepting that the way that an office is set up is going to work for everyone, providing an equally comfortable and ‘injury-minimising’ workspace for all. What is required is a more individualised approach, and certainly some clear education to all staff members about what they should be trying to achieve from an ergonomic perspective during the performance of their daily work tasks, whether that is in sitting, standing or some other position / movement of choice.

Some of the more interesting scenarios I have recently faced include:

  • trying to accommodate taller staff members that have insufficient space between their thighs and the bottom edge of the desk when they are located at a modular workstation unit with multiple interconnected desks – what options do you have to change the height of only 1 working surface?
  • ensuring that a ‘heavier’ staff member is seated in a suitably rated ergonomic adjustable chair (did you know that most ergonomic office chairs are only rated to between 110-130kg – consider your OHS obligations to provide a safe workplace for anyone above that weight – what options are out there?)
  • integrating multiple monitors and laptop computer into a Sit Stand workstation set-up for someone that works from documents and folders too (what is the load rating of that desktop unit you are considering? Some are only 15kg – others go up to 45kg).

It is these types of challenges that I enjoy facing on a day-to-day basis as by coming up with solutions you can have a significant positive impact on the individual’s quality of life at work, and they genuinely appreciate the effort that you go to to do so.

So maybe a good question to start with should be “am I average?” – if the answer is NO then I would suggest having a good look at how you are set up at your workstation and how you go about performing your normal daily work tasks to see if any improvements can be made. And even if the answer is YES then it doesn’t hurt to do the same 🙂

And if you are responsible for the health, safety and wellbeing of others at the workplace then maybe don’t ask the question “Are they average?” but instead consider how everyone’s individual characteristics and work requirements can be best supported through the provision of the right equipment, specific ergonomic education and potential modifications to the standard work practices. They will thank you for it.

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