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Why do people who sit down for their job get back problems, even though they are not lifting?

Is carrying your own body weight around all day everyday not manual handling? If you are lifting a weight, it can change your posture while you are carrying it. Surely this also applies for your own body weight? 


What is good posture?

Posture plays an important role in how we sit, stand and move around. A good posture is attained when the bones and joints are aligned, with less strain being placed on the muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities. Bad posture, such as slouching in a chair or walking hunched-over looking at the ground or a mobile phone, will place excess pressure on certain areas of the body (e.g. creating tension in the shoulders and neck or placing pressure on the lower back).


Over time, a poor posture, such as bending over or slouching in front of the computer screen, mobile phone or tablet will cause wear and tear to the disc in between the vertebrae within the spine. The spine goes from the base of the skull to the coccyx. A slipped disc, also known as a prolapsed disc, is one example of the cumulative effect of wear on the spine. Being aware of posture and adjusting the workstation to maintain the spine’s natural “S” shape can help promote good health.


How does good posture affect productivity?

The benefits of good posture include:

  • being able to breathe more efficiently

  • using muscles more efficiently

  • decreasing the wear and tear on joints

  • reducing the likelihood of developing injuries (eg neck pain, pulling muscles, shoulder pain)

  • improving core strength.


Look after your back

Poor posture is often the cause of back pain. Back pain and discomfort can make it difficult to concentrate on day-to-day tasks. It has been estimated that 60% of adults suffer from back problems each year and, for some, these problems can be unbelievably painful and debilitating. The cost implications of back pain not only affect home lives, but also have a financial impact on businesses in terms of lost work time and sick pay. It therefore makes good business sense for employers to promote good posture, as it will benefit everyone concerned.


How to improve posture

Those who work in a sedentary job or drive for extended periods are at particular risk from muscle fatigue and injury. Purchasing ergonomic equipment such as chairs, keyboards and a mouse to deal with this can help but only if employees know how to use the equipment properly and also take responsibility for some of the posture work themselves.


Sitting

If the mainstay of the work involves working at a computer it is important that the workstation is set up to support good posture. The following steps should be considered in setting up a workstation correctly.

  • The head sits naturally on the body when standing up normally, this is its natural balance point. This is how it should sit when looking at a screen. Raise the screen and lower your chair to the right height. 

  • Both arms should be supported by resting the whole forearm from the elbow to the wrist, either on the arm rest of the chair or the desk. If you are reaching into or down to your keyboard, your arms are weights that will pull your shoulders around in a hunched position. 

  • Adjust the chair height to achieve the last comment. Too many users seem to want their chair as high as possible and then reach down and away from a natural position to the keyboard. 

  • Sit with your buttocks right back in the seated part of the chair and ensure you are touching the upright back part of the chair. 

  • Adjust (if possible) the lumbar support in the upright part of the chair, to sit with the lumbar bulge in the lumbar part of you. 

  • Can the user put their feet flat on the floor? If not, they may need a footrest or lower the chair.

  • Can they break up the work day with activities that do not involve looking at the screen? These could involve filing, photocopying, attending meetings or talking to colleagues.

Spending large amounts of the working day in any one position is not good for posture. There are easy practical measures that can be taken to assist good posture in the workplace:

  • stand up while using the phone

  • eat lunch away from the desk

  • use breakout areas to vary where work is done

  • walk and talk with colleagues, rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.

Standing desks, height adjustable desks and adjustable monitor stands can provide staff with the option to vary their posture between sitting and standing. 


If the organisation employs five or more people, it is their (not the employee’s) legal duty to carry out a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) risk assessment for anyone who uses a display screen as a significant part of their normal work.

Display screens can include laptops, tablets and CCTV monitors. A self assessment should not be carried out. This would be like marking your own homework. Added to this, the individual should not be made aware that an assessment is happening. If you tell them you are carrying out an assessment, they will change their natural way of working while you assess. Then go back to old ways. 


Conclusion

Our posture plays an important role in our day-to-day lives. Many of the benefits associated with promoting good posture can help both individuals and organisations become more productive. Promoting health within the workplace can make organisations more appealing to work for and increase an organisation’s image with clients and competitors.

Office staff at times may be required to move archive boxes, lift boxes of paper, move desks, load the photocopier, reach into the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet or even assist with some deliveries. Although not a regular task, manual handling all the same. 




STORY TIME

I was reviewing a metal fabrication plant, where they weld and move big bits of steel, the welders are required to complete good welds at all times to ensure structural integrity of the work they produce.

On my first visit, we put in some control measures to help bring down the site's awful musculoskeletal issues. After a year, I returned and asked how they had got on. The health and safety manager was more than happy with the advice I had given. They had educated the site about posture, purchased some new steps to allow the welders to adopt better positions when welding at low level or above chest height, introduced some tailor made manual handling training and carried out posture checks on a daily basis.

I said well done just stay on top of it.

He next said to me, although he had addressed the shop floor welders, he was still having issues with his office staff and didn't know what to do.

When I asked why he had not  tackled this at the same time he knew it was half his issues (the site is made up of equal numbers of office & welders).


His answer was “Office staff are low risk and dont carry out manual handling” My next question back was “Where have all their MSD issues come from then?”







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