There are times when you have to bring in the pros. Especially when it comes to ergonomics as it becomes more clear to employers that a growing business cannot afford patching up the office layout in order to meet the increase of daily tasks. Poorly designed work places negatively influence workers’ creativity, productivity and general satisfaction. Not to mention health hazards, which can eventually cost the employer in compensation and hidden costs. The following cases were evaluated and redesigned by Craig Stewart, ASP, an ergonomic specialist for the past 20 years.
An analysis was requested by corporate headquarters for a division serving as a phone center of a large medical company. The workers complained about noise, lack of space, dust, mold, physical discomfort, injuries and general dissatisfaction. It was considered the dungeon and the last place people wanted to work. At one point OSHA claims were made. Compared to other divisions in the company, worker complaints and absenteeism were high.
What we found was a typical design that did not consider the workers, their space needs and the general work environment. This group of 30 workers had a 15% ergonomic injury rate; high dispersion of dust and mold had workers complaining of allergies and colds. In fact there were several complaints made daily and the supervisors spent much of their days addressing them.
In principal, a poorly designed office layout affects the productivity, satisfaction and profitability of workers and the company. This office layout was provided by a large furniture company and had very little thought put into design and outcome. When viewing the “before” photos, you can see what happened to the space over 2 years.
The old design provided what was thought to be an open layout (remember this is a phone center and everyone is constantly on the phones and filing papers). The desks were small and the mail bins took up 20 inches of desk space. Paper bins and file cabinets under the desks left no legroom and made it almost impossible to turn or swivel the chairs. Within a year the company had to purchase and install hanging file holders due to lack of storage. Keyboard trays were added because the standard 29-inch desk height started to create shoulder and neck injuries. Poor panel layout created problems for janitorial and IT personnel that was impossible to overcome.
We analyzed the issues and found that the company could solve the ergonomic concerns by using height adjustable desks with lots of desk space and legroom. Users could work in neutral postures and easily access their desk tools. This desk design eliminated shoulder and low back complaints. The desk height could be easily adjusted in 10 minutes, reducing facilities costs by eliminating extensive set up and re-design time.
When on the phone, it was difficult for the employees to hear clients. Our solution was a re-designed floor plan utilizing a combination of panels and a tall filing cabinet. This created privacy, acted as a sound barrier and provided much needed storage space. This design also eliminated the need for overhead storage bins and we designated easy to install modular panels that cost less.
With air quality and employee environmental sensitivities in mind, we chose a totally green manufacturing process. This included using sustainable woods with no VOC out gassing and water based glues. The steel legs are made of high-recycled content with an environmental method for application of the powder coat paint. The goal was to remove any possible future issues with air quality and offer a clean environment for the workers.
Gone were the “dead” dusty spaces with this new design and it was easy for the IT team to wire and easy to clean. The design combined sound privacy for the call center, offered lots of storage, promoted neutral body posture and encouraged team communication with easy monitoring for the supervisors. By opening up the space and providing ergonomic office furniture and tools, the complaints went from over 4 a day to zero. The department was happy, efficient and productive. Best of all the supervisors were freed up to do their “real” job.
The overwriting concept of all Kare Product designs is to always focus on the people, analyzing their daily tasks and requirements needed to place them in an ergonomically neutral posture. Creating a design that provides enough space to permit tasks to be performed in a productive manner while considering the health and well being of the employees is key. Once that’s in place, then it’s time to take those concepts and make them visually appealing.
In this case we performed an analysis of a division in a high-rise office building where employees complained about lack of privacy and noise interfering with their ability to complete their work. Daily tasks included intensive computer projects and ongoing communication with investors. As a result of the working conditions, Human Resource saw an increase in lost workdays and a rise in Workers’ Compensation cases.
We identified the need for a single overall design that would accommodate both group interactions as well as individual workstations. With that in mind, the system would need to dampen the noise and provide privacy for the employees.
The solution included a paneling system that allowed easy interface with co-workers for group projects. For the individuals, we provided sit stand desk configurations that addressed the employees’ heights (ranging from 5′ to 6’2”) and ergonomic injuries. The pedestals included the height considerate storage systems (not limiting a lower desk) and at each station we added dual height adjustable monitor arms.
Thus amount of ambient noise was greatly reduced, ample space for group projects was provided and each person was able to enjoy an ergonomically fit workstation. Comments from the workers were positive emphasizing the uniqueness of the design, how it accommodates their requirements and the fact that it had a pleasing appearance.
By making the design modular, the company was able to easily move offices a few times within a 3- year range, taking it apart and re-installing all desk systems in less than one day. This alone saved more money than the cost of the entire system.
Lastly, each employee handled a large amount of paper on daily basis. In high-rise buildings and other closed office environments, the outgassing from most new furniture, carpet and paint releases a lot of fumes and the lack of ventilation can cause allergic reactions and cold-like symptoms. By selecting green furniture with water base glues, recycled laminates and non-toxic paints we were able to eliminate the reactions to the chemicals and create a healthier work place.
Craig Stewart is VP and co-owner of Kare Products since 1983. Craig brings analytical skills to Kare Products systems, manufacturing, workspace ergonomics and design. He has grown the company from bootstrap to a national market.
This article was originally published (in part) here.