Workplace ergonomics – or health management in general – is a big issue that has had an ever more important role to play in companies. Fitness courses for the employees, superfoods in the canteen, ergonomic workplaces: companies who want to be attractive employers invest in the well-being and fitness of their team. Whether they ultimately suffer from back pains or headaches depends to a large extent on the furnishings in the office. Are they really always suitable for the people using them? We spoke with Mark Krichels, the health expert from KKM Corporate Health, who advises companies on these issues.

Why are workplace ergonomics such an important issue?

Mark Krichels: Most people in the western world spend more than half their time sitting or lying – and it’s clear for each of us that that’s not healthy. A large proportion of employees work sitting in front of their computers all day long – and that’s another fact that is unlikely to change so quickly.

The desk will remain in the place where most of us work in the future, too. 

But what we can change is the way, the very manner, in which we work! That is why ergonomics have been developed to prevent the stresses that affect people from monotonous, rigid movements and infrequent changes of position at work.

What parameters can employers fulfil for more effective ergonomics in the workplace?

Krichels: One particular insight is really important to start with; that each employee is an individual, already in purely physical terms: big, small, long-body-short-legs, good eyes, bad eyes ... So there is no such thing as a standard workplace. Instead there are workplaces that can be individually adapted to meet the employee’s needs – just like with a car, in fact. No-one just sits behind the week and drives off without adjusting the seat and the mirror. So there should be a willingness to invest in ergonomic workplaces here – also in terms of the “hardware” that is the furniture or the lighting.

What do workplace ergonomics specifically mean with regard to desks?

Krichels: Many people think that this is achieved with a good office chair. That is of course important, undeniably. But its best partner is an ergonomic desk. Here, too, flexibility is trumps – as the table height depends on the chair height, and that depends on the seated person.

Desks have the ideal height when your lower arms can be placed at right angles on the tabletop with a straight back. There should be a hand’s width space between your thighs and the lower edge of the desk. There should also be enough space under the table for moving your legs and stretching them out from time to time. In some cases a foot support could also be recommended.

In a workplace with a computer screen – which is usually the case nowadays – the position and especially the height of the monitor is very important. The ideal line of vision is looking slightly downwards with the top edge of the monitor just lower than eye level – and it should be possible to tilt the screen backwards or forwards.

Mark Krichels is an executive partner at KKM Corporate Health in Würselen. He and his partners advise and guide companies in health management, by working out tailor-made systems and implementing strategies for the development and maintenance of employees’ health.