Great Ideas for your Small Business: Think Ergonomically
I’m usually the last one to urge any entrepreneur to spend money on office trappings. In my previous life as a white-collar crime reporter, I quickly learned the glitzier the office, the worse the criminal who worked there.
But with repetitive-motion injuries costing U.S. business owners an estimated $100 million in lost productivity and millions more in workers’ comp each year, it’s important to make sure you and your employees are sitting on the right kind of chairs behind the right desks.
If you work in California, you have to comply with a variety of ergonomic regulations. As onerous as it sounds, pro- viding a comfortable workplace is becoming mandatory, no matter where you live and work. In 1999, federal statistics showed there were 246,000 cases of repeated trauma disorders affecting workers from white-collar executives to meatpackers. “The most important investment you can make is in a chair with adjustable lumbar support and height features,” said Mark Dutka, founder of In House in San Francisco, a design firm specializing in home office furniture. His personal favorite is the Herman Miller “Aeron” chair, which retails for about $1,150.
Rebecca Boenigk, chief executive officer and chairman of Neutral Posture Inc. in Bryan, Texas, is very familiar with good office chairs. Her father, Dr. Jerome Congleton, is a national expert on ergonomics and designer of the company’s adjustable chairs. “If you don’t have proper support, you’ll go home hurting every day,” said Boenigk. “We want you to change the position of your chair all day long and make it easy to do so.” Recognizing that too many expensive chairs are not properly used, her company sends out a videotape and instruction booklet with every chair. They also have an animated computer software program that explains how to operate Neutral Posture chairs. “Some people think a $200 chair is expensive,” she said. “But the chair is the most important part of the workstation.” Boenigk said a minor carpal tunnel injury, caused by too much typing or repetitive wrist movement, can cost a company $12,000 in medical treatment and physical therapy. A serious injury can run into hundreds of thou- sands of dollars.
The market for comfortable office chairs is fueling the industry. There are about 100 ergonomic chair makers, with big companies like Steelcase selling $400 million worth of equipment a year.
Neutral Posture, with its $14 million in sales, is a small player, but it’s working closely with good distributors around the United States. Neutral Posture’s seventy-five employees make more than chairs. They also make a portable workstation for laptop computers which lets the user stand or sit.
Preventing repetitive stress injuries by providing good office furniture makes economic (and ergonomic) sense.
How to gear up ergonomically
- Hire an ergonomics consultant to review your office.
- Determine what equipment you need to reduce back and wrist problems.
- Start by buying the low-budget items: back support pillows, wrist rests for keyboards, foot stools, copy holders, and good lighting.
- Work your way up to complete workstations and expensive chairs.