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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Office evolution needs response

Office evolution needs response
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Traditional office work is evolving rapidly due to changes in technology and the expectations of workers, requiring a response from ergonomists, furniture designers and health and safety practitioners, according to a leading Australian ergonomist.

Speaking at the SIA conference, David Caple said communications technology provides flexibility about where work takes place, leading to modern offices designed by activity rather than having people sit in fixed places.

From a health and safety perspective, he said, many office stressors are cognitive so the debate is around how to increase workers' perceptions of control. "It's okay not to look at your emails until 11am because you are demonstrating you are in control. It's about regaining control to make you a priority. Where do you feel you do your best work?"

Caple, an adjunct professor at La Trobe University and former president of the International Ergonomics Association, said people want more flexibility about where and when they work, as well as more contact-ability. "The perception is: I am in control. I will do this task when it suits me, eg reading emails at home."

The proliferation of wireless hand-held devices is driving the move to activity-based work, leading modern office design to move away from an 'entitled' workspace (ie: your own desk) and towards working in 'neighbourhoods' designed to encourage a variety of activities, from private spaces for intensive solo concentration work, to small spaces for one-to-one collaboration, to larger spaces for group collaborations of up to four people.

Members of Generation Y, he said, don't identify themselves so strongly by organisation or location. "You can't assume they want to come to work 9-5 at a particular location. They might want to work from home or from the local cafe."

Caple said sedentary work is now recognised as a health hazard in its own right, leading to increased interest in sit-to-stand workstations. Giving people the option to stand is particularly good for people with chronic lower back pain - but some designs with crank handles require 100 or more rotations to change position. "After two or three goes, people won't bother."

An organisation which can't afford electrically powered workstations should at least try to provide places where people can stand to work, including meeting rooms. "We are trying to generate more opportunities to generate blood flow." (As an aside, he said roughly half the adult population carry a chronic musculoskeletal disorder at any one time. He called for a show of hands and, sure enough, a little more than 50% of delegates acknowledged their MSD.)

Earlier, in his opening remarks, he told delegates that he had found that when working with company boards on developing strategies it was more effective to focus on values than numbers.

"The thing that presses the buttons of boards and chief executives is to take them back to their own values and ask: how do we show our staff that we value them?"

His advice: when preparing regular reports for the board, move away from data and instead include stories about workers' experiences. "Graphs and pie charts don't inform the board much."


People Mentioned:
David Caple
Organisations Mentioned:
Safety Institute of Australia
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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