Ergonomic researchers are concerned with the designs of the office space that is chairs, tables/desks, monitors, etc., to achieve maximum comfort for workers to allow for good health. This includes keeping workers energised and having their spines aligned to avoid office related injuries that strain the body's structure and inflict short or long-term damages.
Dr Mohammad Mohiuddin Araf, Physiatrist and Consultant and Coordinator of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department of Apollo Hospital Dhaka, says as there are two kinds of occupational injuries -- systematic and mechanical, with office injuries falling under the latter category.
“As a specialist, based on my observation, I would have to say that when it comes to office injuries, the probability between the number of male and female patients is roughly the same, since women also work outside the house,” he says.
“But there are some specific injuries that have a higher frequency of female patients as opposed to men, especially within the household, from seemingly light tasks that are repetitive and can involve long hours of standing (while cooking), bending over (to pick up children or cleaning). This increases the likelihood of joint pains,” he added.
Lateral epicondylitis, better known as Tennis Elbow, is an injury although most commonly seen amongst tennis/badminton athletes due to the repetitive movement of the wrist joint causing pain in the elbow, is also found amongst Bangladeshi women due to repetitive motions such as stirring utensils or even wringing washed clothes.
“In combination of working in the office, overall, in some cases it can be suggested that women are more prone to mechanical injuries as a whole than men,” he concluded.
The doctor also discussed how mechanical injuries are pain related such as joint, muscle or skin related, and in the case of office injuries, it is the result of sitting for long hours, or working desk jobs also known as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), such as those from writing or typing on the keyboard for hours.
The frequency of such cases has increased in the last five to six years due to awareness and roughly around 25-30 percent of daily patients at Apollo Hospital come in with minor office injuries. When collecting patients' history, they usually mention how their parents had the same complaints as them, suggesting that the condition could possibly be hereditary.
Dr Araf emphasises that that is never the case rather it has to do with leading a sedentary lifestyle and recommends alternating between standing and sitting every half hour.
SOME LONG TERM EFFECTS OF OFFICE INJURIES
Obesity, often a result of sedentary work, worsens any form of office injury.
Osteoporosis, the medical condition in which there is a reduction in the density and quality of the bone over time, is an earlier and larger risk for women, who often develop the condition after 40, whilst men it begins after 50.
Arthritis is the alteration of bones anywhere in the body, specifically in joints.
Degenerative changes, especially of the mechanical kind, develop with age (changes in the joint) but in recent times, this is no longer the scene due to repetitive wear and tear in joints resulting in early age signs of developing osteoporosis and arthritis.
In terms of using ergonomic chairs and other furniture in the office space, nothing can completely guarantee risk prevention, as other factors may also play a significant role, as most people use buses and rickshaws.
According to Dr Araf, “All it takes is one good jolt while in a rickshaw to develop back pain.”
Prevention is thus integral in reducing the office injuries. Proper regulation of weight is extremely important to eliminate the chances of such injuries. Although the term weight is relative, based on an individual's Body Mass Index (BMI), an ideal range can be determined. The focus should be on maintaining fitness which can be done by exercising 3 to 5 days a week.
Granted most people work full time, it is important to take time out in the day to do so, in addition to maintaining a healthy diet by reducing the intake of carbohydrates and refined sugar.
Swimming is probably the best form of exercise as it involves all the muscles of the body resulting in overall fitness.
An alternative to swimming is walking. Considering time is a factor, a good tip is to drop off a kilometre, or more, away from home and then walk the rest of the way. Best is to time your walks to make sure you get in at least 30 minutes of walking five times in a week.
A shopper's guide for getting ergonomic furniture
Although most furniture shops around Dhaka claim to sell ergonomic chairs, the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) is your best bet. They primarily advocate for equal access of health, rehabilitation, employment and the physical environment and information of men, women and children, and also provide services for those suffering from professional and office injuries.
On top of that they have shops that sell ergonomic furniture that can be custom-made depending on the needs of the patient; the closest shop in Dhaka is at their centre in Mirpur.
Their 'Balans Stool' is specifically made for people who work long hours in a sitting position. These chairs are made to provide lumbar support and have mechanisms that allow for the shift in weight between the knees and back.
In addition, they also have other ergonomic furniture tailored to the kind of work related to office injuries such as keyboards, desk and more.
Essential features of ergonomic furniture
Adjustable height mechanisms, arm rests and tilt options.
Lumbar support, cushions, neck pillow or gel seat cushions.
For office desks
Adjustable height (to stretch legs out) and monitor shelf.
Sufficient desktop space.
Allowance for the wrist to work without undue pressure.
Adjustable height or an ergonomic computer monitor stand.
Distance between user and monitor should be an arm's length.
Default font size stops users from squinting.
Must have a split keyboard design so that the keys look like their designed in a “V” shape or maybe one with an adjustable angle.
Shape and size of the mouse should comfortably fit the shape of the hand in a neutral position.
Position of the mouse is as close as possible to the body and only the upper arm is used to operate it.