Workstation Assessments today.
Workstation Assessments have become more common in these stressful days where people spend more and more time stuck in the office behind a desk. Studies show that improving the environment is key to retaining employees and attracting the best staff. Just ask Google. They spent a reported £1 billion on their brand new London premises.
You may sniff at such a cost but the government have just released a report detailing that 100 million days are lost every year to employees throwing the proverbial ‘sickie’. The cost a mere £100 billion to the economy. Most companies cannot stretch to the level of a Google budget. However, it is important for employees to consider the working environment in greater detail than many have realised so far. Pot plant anyone?
In this article, we are not going to concern ourselves with the greater office plan. We are going to take a look at our own immediate workstation. To be entirely honest, many years ago, when I was first asked to do a workstation assessment, I thought to myself, ‘This seems like a waste of time, what do I now?’ It seemed to me, fairly straightforward. A chair, a desk, a computer. This turned out to be very wrong.
Firstly, the desk I was visiting had already been assessed by the Occupational Health lady. Now, what qualifications did she have? Weekend course in ergonomics? Interesting. But not particularly useful. It is now a legal requirement for an office with more than five employees to offer what is called a Display Screen Equipment Assessment (DSE). It should be a workstation assessment. It should consider the workspace and the individual. Some companies will tell you it does. But with what eyes do they look?
Case Study One
Katya worked in a modest size business with around twenty-five staff. They were fairly cramped in a small unsuitable room for an office. Both Katya and the office manager had had Alexander Technique lessons and had decided I should give Katya a workstation assessment. She was around 28, fairly tall and had been suffering a debilitating neck pain for some time. She told me that the Alexander Lessons had brought much relief, but every day after work the same excruciating pain returned to her neck.
As I went through to her desk, the first thing that struck me, was a column immediately behind her chair. It was literally looming over her like some great colossus. In order to get in and out of this chair, she had to negotiate this unwarranted monster. I hadn’t even observed her chair or desk, let alone the computer monitor. All three of which are usually guilty of some terrible infringement on the human condition. Just this almighty column was enough to completely ruin her posture, her sense of space. The column was like a heavy and intense work colleague, constantly breathing down her neck. It was like a human rights abuse. It had me frothing at the mouth.
I really lost it that day and within 20 minutes of being there her workstation was broken down and she was shifted off to a nice open location. The workstation from hell was gone and so was her neck problem. Within three days the neck pain was cured by this shift in location. This move away from column hell. Katya had also been complaining about the company she worked for. Now she seemed to love it again. She loved her job. Again.
As we can see, it is always a good idea to consider the space we work in. Try to see how the employee is experiencing the work space. Get a workstation assessment.
Alexander Technique principles
Now, who was that occupational health person? Didn’t they think the column was a problem? There lies the crux of it. They don’t. Because the parameters they are using are too restricted.
Thus, we must be careful who we employ to do the workstation assessments.
We base the Alexander Technique Workstation Assessments on holistic principles that take into consideration the person and the workstation. How do they use themselves? How do they sit at the desk? How does the desk sit them? How does the desk influence the way they use themselves.? You can’t make it up, there isn’t one size fits all. Neither, are the problems the same. Not everyone will be stuffed into space not fit for human endeavour. However, there will be one or two things that make you cringe. Certainly as an Alexander Teacher.
Case Study Two
I was visiting a relatively small events company. The offices were actually quite plush. One staff member had been complaining that her workstation was causing her distress. So I was called in to see if I could work it out. Now, by virtue of your expertise and the fact you are being paid to do this, it becomes obvious that a no messing around approach is entirely necessary.
I made all the usual checks, monitor a bit too low, desk a bit messy, a bit of reorganisation here and there. The last check I normally make is under the desk. Now, this is where, on this occasion, the problems began and ended. The underneath of the desk was like a cupboard. Many boxed shoes, clothing, even a boxed up printer! A whole printer under your desk. There was no room for feet. On my recommendation, she was told to move it all right away. It took her ages. Now, here is a person complaining about aches and pains. Just try sitting at your desk with your feet under your chair for five minutes and you will start to feel aches and pains. Therefore it is important that we do not always apportion blame on the company. Individuals must take responsibility for there workstations.
This is what happens. People are not aware of how the body works. They cannot see the interrelationship between a person and a workstation. And you cannot learn it in five days on an ergonomic course by the Health & Safety Executive. As heartfelt as these courses are, without the sound principles of the Alexander Technique and the experienced practitioner, there is no way of observing the subtleties of an individuals relationship to the space they work in. Workstation Assessments should be a yearly routine, but it is important to work with someone who can actually help you. A Workstation Assessment by the wrong person can be expensive and a waste of time.
As a result of this misdirection of resources companies and individuals are losing out. Nothing worthwhile changes. The problems remain. So many people complain about the restrictions set down by their management teams who insist the wrong person assesses them. One client actually paid me for her own assessment after months of trying to get one, only for it to be a waste of time. I was literally sneaked in through the back door. What did I find? The ergonomic chair was a little difficult to adjust, especially without experience and also whilst sitting on it. The settings were all wrong. Also, the screen was too low. The equipment was badly organised on the desk in relation to the individuals’ personal postural problems. There is a standard HSE workstation Assessment form. I always fill one out. However, the real work is often more subtle. It could be the environment or something the person is doing. Without the sound principles of the Alexander Technique, it is very difficult to tell.
Booking a workstation Assessment
Type of service
*Basic Assessment – New member of staff-group of people never assessed or who have moved desks.
*Assessment of a musculoskeletal problem such as neck problems, headaches, RSI, lower back pain etc.
*Individual or group assessments available.