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WorkSmart Principles of Ergonomics for the 21st Century Workplace:

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By Erik Nieuwenhuis MS, PT St. Luke’s WorkSmart Injury Prevention Specialist and WELLness Consultant 712-279-1842

Are lower back and shoulder sprain or strain overexertion injuries causing a burden to your company’s bottom line and operating budget? Does your company struggle with preventing slip, trip and fall injuries? If so, stay tuned as this month’s topic on WorkSmart principles of ergonomics will help you and the leadership of your company discover keys to preventing these injury claims at your workplace. 

This month’s topic is WorkSmart Principles of Ergonomics, and The Industrial Athlete Approach to Injury Prevention. Understanding and applying these principles to your workplace will reduce the risk of Musculoskeletal and Cumulative Trauma Disorders (MSD/ CTD) and improve your energy level while at the same time reducing your stress level. 

What is Occupational Ergonomics?

It is the relentless pursuit and continuous effort to design the workplace for what people do well, and design against what people don’t do well. According to Ergoweb, ergonomics works to remove barriers to quality, productivity and safe human performance in human-machine systems by fitting products, equipment, tools, systems, tasks, jobs and the environment to people. Workers’ risks of injury increases with awkward and repetitive postures, excessive force and frequency. 

To reduce the risk of OSHA recordable injuries and improve employee health and wellness: 

  • Keep everything within an easy reach.

    If you work at a computer workstation, keep your mouse and keyboard close to you, so you can keep your elbows as close to your sides as possible! Also, check the position of your phone, paperwork, and calculator, etc for their setup position. When lifting or carrying anything, keep the item as close to your body as possible and tip it back towards your body to reduce force. 
  • Work at proper heights.

    Keep most of your daily work between knee and shoulder level with storage of equipment/ tools that are frequently used or the most awkward size, shape and heaviest weight. Working from waist to mid chest height is ideal for most of your daily work if you stand for most of your workday. Most people need to have their computer monitor raised to have the top line of the monitor at or just below eye level. If you use bi- or tri-focals, you will need the monitor positioned at a lower height to avoid repeated extending of your head and the risk for headaches. 
  • Reduce excessive forces.

    Watch your work and home habits for how hard you grip or pinch the following items throughout the day: cell phone/ telephone, mouse, pen/ pencil, steering wheel, silverware, blackberry/ PDA, video game controllers and tools/equipment used at work or home. Reduce your grip and/ or pinch force if you are able, and take frequent WorkSmart stretching breaks. Purchase and use “Mechanix” anti-vibration gloves to reduce the risk of tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome to your hands when using tools such as sanders, grinders, drills, lawn mowers, etc. 
  • Work in good “WorkSmart” industrial athlete postures.

    When lifting anything, work to keep your head up and feet wider than shoulder width apart, with your feet staggered. This posture is very important for the health and prevention of injury to your lower back and shoulders, by improving your balance and stability. It is also important to keep the load close to your body.
  • Reduce excessive repetition.

    Perform WorkSmart stretches (2-3x/ day or more) throughout the workday when you feel fatigued or discomfort. If you spend the majority of your workday at a computer workstation, get up and move or stretch at least every 1-2 hours. 
  • Minimize fatigue to your working, aging body.

    Vary your WorkSmart posture and body mechanics, perform WorkSmart stretches, drink water, eat breakfast or healthy foods and drink, smile and laugh. 
  • Minimize direct contact pressure to your work surfaces or equipment.

    Avoid having your wrist or forearm rest on a sharp edge of your desk or work surface. This is a work posture habit that I see often in workplaces across the Siouxland area, and this increases the risk for CTD injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Adjust and change your posture throughout the workday.

    If you sit for most of your workday, make sure you know how to properly adjust your chair’s seat pan angle from slightly tipped forward to neutral. . 
  • Provide clearance and access.

    Think and plan ahead for worker safety, watch out for items you can slip, trip and fall over and slow down during icy weather for safety. 
  • Maintain a comfortable environment.

    Make sure the heat and air conditioning are working properly, dress properly for the work area and work being done. Make sure you always have good shoes and work boots with good arch support. The Spenco arch supports are great supports that can be purchased at area vendors. 
  • Improve work organization.

    Look to re-organize the process of how you do each daily job in your workplace to improve productivity, reduce repetition, awkward postures, awkward ranges of motion, or high forces. Get rid of clutter in your work areas. 


  1. Ergonomics for Managers and Supervisors “Applying Human Performance Principles to Increase Efficiency” by HumanTech “Pocket Primer” 2006.
  2. 2008 Safety Index: Ergonomics Related Injuries Top Disabling Injury Costs
  3. ErgoWeb’s definition of Ergonomics taken from the Commentary: What is ergonomics really about? By Peter Budnick, PhD, CPE May 30, 2001. 
  4. ErgoSafe, A Systematic Approach to Ergonomic Task Analysis Instructor Guide. 1992 Comprehensive Loss Management, Inc. 
  5. Ergonomics Final Ergonomics Standard Nov 2000 by OSHA and US Dept of Labor 
  6. Erik Nieuwenhuis MS, PT St Luke’s IMPACC WorkSmart and WELLness Services 279-1842