Posture and Comfort

by Hugh Babington Smith

Triggers for managerial attention

Any work activity involves posture! But there are some activities where problems are more likely to occur, including

  • Using computers
  • Working with weights – either heavy weights or light ones, used over a long period or in awkward positions
  • Driving for long periods
  • Standing for long periods
  • Travelling with luggage.

Below are the two chief factors that should alert you to the possibility of more immediate potential problems.

  • Employees who are clearly outside the norm, perhaps because they are very short, tall, heavy or frail, are the most likely ones to find that the standard furniture is uncomfortable. Their opinion must be heard.
  • Hot-desking – if furniture is to be used by different people, it must be more flexible. Chairs, desk-height and VDU height must be easily adjustable to cater for the extremes of a variety of users. This also applies to vehicles used by more than one driver.
Key point

If furniture or other equipment is to be used by several people, you must make sure that all users know how to make adjustments.

Computer users

Most computer users are by law subject to the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002, which are often known as the ‘DSE regulations’. The HSE publication which explains them contains full and generally very good explanations of the factors to be taken into account and how they should be handled – this is the area that tends to be known as ‘office ergonomics’. In addition, you should note that it is advisable to get professionals for assessment and training.

Regulation six governs training.

While it is easy to train anyone at work to do the basic DSE assessment, it is unfair to expect someone who does not have medical training to undertake the finer points of postural adjustments; after all, you would not ask them to carry out the eye-test.

Moreover, individuals hotly resent being told by colleagues, particularly managers, that their posture is poor. They will, however, take it from someone who is clearly medically qualified (a physiotherapist, for example) and who can explain the medical background to the advice.

Working with heavy weights

Manhandling heavy weights with poor posture is likely to cause catastrophic damage (see What happens if posture is poor?).

Anyone who might have to lift heavy weights should undergo specialised lifting and handling training. Large companies often have in-house trainers, but for the smaller organisation there are numerous companies and organisations that will provide the appropriate training (see the HSE guide Getting to grips with manual handling, ISBN 0 7176 2828 0).

Driving for long periods

For the HSE view on driving, see their leaflet Driving at work, managing work-related health and safety, ISBN 0 7176 2740 3.

Like many other publications, this mentions the need for good posture, but does not explain what this means!

Simple postural training can help you to

  • Choose an appropriate vehicle
  • Sit in it properly.

Ideally, a person will be aware of their postural requirements when choosing the vehicle.

The sporting banker

Tom was an area manager and, to his initial delight, his company car was a convertible upmarket sports car.

After several months, the car seat was identified as the cause of his continual pain while driving, at work and at home. His car was changed and his pain disappeared completely.

Having chosen the proper vehicle, knowing how to sit properly in it will result in the driver being more alert for longer periods.

The delivery driver

Jack drives a white delivery van, hopping in and out scores of times a day to carry 18kg bottles of water to his customers’ water machines. His back was hurting.

After physiotherapy, the final stage of his postural training took place when he was at the wheel and moving his bottles. This was the stage at which his reducing back pain finally eased totally: ‘If I feel a twinge, I know why and what to do.’

Standing for long periods

If your employees are likely to stand for long periods – for example, in a shop or at an exhibition – some instruction on correct posture when standing can pay dividends.

The exhibitionist

Rob – tall, thin and stooped – was dreading his two days on the company exhibition stand. By chance, the week before, he attended a morning workshop on posture. He applied his new-found knowledge and found to his delight that he was fresh and alert throughout the exhibition: ‘I could not have done that without my training.’

Travelling with luggage

Stand at the airport arrivals door and watch the tired businessmen marching off the plane. Those who have their cabin baggage and their laptop on a small trolley will be striding along, but those who have to carry it will be twisted and clearly in difficulty.

A laptop with its equipment and perhaps some files is, frankly, heavy. Some 4kg hanging from the arm is bad enough, but when you reach out to put it down or on a shelf, the leverage increases the forces substantially. This is exacerbated when the body is tired and if it is forced into a twisting motion.

Once again, some basic training in handling luggage – very similar to manual handling training – will help the employee.