According to the Ergonomics Society of South Africa (ESSA), ergonomics is the science of work. The goal of ergonomics in the workplace is to design tasks, jobs, products, work environments, and systems in such a way that they are compatible with the needs, abilities, and limitations of people.
In November of 2013, the ESSA announced that they will be working closely with the Department of Labour to ensure ergonomic design is recognised in the South African legislation. This development will ensure the safety and sustainability of working conditions in our country so that our jobs do not negatively affect our overall health.
How do I enforce my ergonomic rights?
A worker should have the freedom to preserve their health while doing their job. It is therefore completely within your rights to approach your seniors with complaints about strain on your back caused by a non-ergonomically designed chair, poor ventilation, or any other undue strain to your body.
Not all problems concerning worker safety and comfort have been addressed in our legislation. There is, for example, no legal limit to what weight a worker can be expected to lift manually. A lot of airlines draw the weight-line for a single piece of luggage at 32kg in an effort to spare employee’s backs. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a much lower maximum weight of 23kg, and that’s only if all other conditions are perfect.
Another example of holes in our ergonomic legislation is a lack of clear regulations when it comes to temperature control. International regulations do however dictate a summer bulb temperature of 23 to 28 degrees Celsius. In winter this range drops to 20 to 25.5 degrees Celsius.
Luckily space allocation is clearly stipulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Environmental Regulations say that workers are entitled to 2.25 square metres of office space including their desk, chair, computer and accessories. Hopefully all aspects of our worker environment will soon be stipulated this clearly.
Promoting an ergonomic workspace
Keep in mind that your employer wants you to be healthy as well. A lack of health concerns in the office leads to employee absence, and profit losses. Office environments and control rooms where employees spend the whole day in a seated position should especially be concerned about ergonomically designed desk spaces and adequate lumber support.
It is your employer’s responsibility to have your workspace audited and certified by the ESSA. There are plenty of companies who specialise in office layout and ergonomic control room design. These specialists can help with implementing the correct features and floor-plan to make your workspace as friendly as possible, and thereby promote your health.
The cost of implementing ergonomic design is easily validated when looking at the impact it has on worker happiness, days taken off sick and general productivity. Do everything you can to ensure your workplace is not harming your health, whether the legislation demands it or not.