Last February, OSHA proposed a workplace ergonomic standard designed to protect workers whose jobs put them at risk for repetitive strain injuries (RSI). According to the agency, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, herniated disc and lower back pain) cause American workers to lose more than 600,000 workdays each year, sapping productivity and forcing employers to spend an ever-increasing amount on worker's compensation claims and associated health costs.
While intense opposition from business leaders, labor officials and Congress makes it extremely likely the new ergonomics standard will be appealed , the proposal has made business owners both large and small more aware of the link between a healthy, ergonomically-designed workplace and the productivity of their business.
Even if you don't have any employees, this link is especially applicable to homebased businesses. Given the tremendous stress and responsibility of running a homebased business on your own, it's even more important to pay attention to your work environment and its effect on your body, says Dora Potter, owner of Rockville Center, New York, ergonomics consulting firm, Ergnomic by Design, which specializes in computer workstation safety. "No matter where you're working or what you're doing, ergonomic [improvements] will very definitely contribute to your health," says Potter. "The positions you work in, the amount of time you spend performing tasks, and the way in which you use your body in relation to the materials around you is going to improve your productivity and efficiency because you'll stay healthy for a longer period of time and be able to work more comfortably."
How do you know if a poorly designed work environment is hurting you? Your body will tell you, with symptoms ranging from headaches and lower back pain to carpal tunnel syndrome (a syndrome where the tissue surrounding a nerve in the forearm swells, causing pain and difficulty in movement). In an office setting, CTS and other related injuries are generally caused by repetitive motion, such as typing or using a mouse, but sitting in awkward positions-like when you cradle a phone between your shoulder and head-for long periods of time can also play a role, says Potter.
Though you can't completely eliminate typing, using a mouse or answering the phone from your daily routine as a business owner, changing various aspects of your workspace to meet ergonomic standards will certainly reduce the chances of contracting these injuries.
A former staff writer for Entrepreneur magazine, G. David Doran's articles have appeared in Japan Inc., Pool and Spa News and No-Fi magazine.