Ergonomics can be defined as the science of work and studies people’s efficiency in their working environment. This relates to physiotherapy from the perspective of physical or musculoskeletal disorders, which are caused by poor postural or movement habits whilst people are at work.

In Europe, these disorders represent the most common occupational disease and there is likely a similar picture here in South Africa, other medical factors aside. Not only do these ailments negatively impact an employee’s health and his/her ability to work productively, but they also impose a socio-economic burden on companies and medical care.
What are the causes of musculoskeletal disorders?

  • Repetitive movement
  • Awkward posture
  • High impact forces
  • Contact stresses
  • Environmental exposures, etc


You can see some of these causes shown in the picture on the left.

What can be done to help prevent these complaints?

The only way to alleviate the frequency of musculoskeletal disorders is to strike a good balance between occupational demands and staff capacity. Ideally, this is done by ergonomically changing work spaces to best suit each employee.

However, in practical terms, this is a burdensome task, particularly in factory environments in third world countries. But there is a greater chance of using ergonomics in offices.

Benefits of Ergonomics implementation in the workplace

  1. Ergonomics reduces costs because staff are not absent from work so often to attend to physical complaints.
  2. Ergonomics improves productivity because employees are more ‘comfortable’ doing their job.
  3. Ergonomics improves quality because there can be more focus on the task at hand, than worrying about the negative impacts of that task.
  4. Ergonomics creates a better safety culture because staff are less likely to be injured while on duty when involved with mechanical processes.

Ergonomic Desk Setup


  1. Be seated as far back in the chair as possible to feel the benefit of the lumbar (lower back) support.
  2. Feet rested flat on the floor – To be at the correct height in relation to the work surface, a footrest is recommended for shorter users.
  3. Hips slightly higher than knees.
  4. Armrests – Keep elbows close to your body, and shoulders relaxed down.
  5. Monitor – Top-most line of monitor display at approximately eye level.
  6. Viewing distance – As far away as possible while still seeing the screen clearly. This is approximately at arm’s length.
  7. Keyboard – Keep the keyboard in close proximity; keep your shoulders relaxed, elbows at 90 degrees and your wrists in line with your forearm.
  8. Keep the mouse close to you and alongside the keyboard.



Ergonomic tips for ‘non-desk’ workers

  • Set up your workstation to best suit your comfort.
  • Be mindful of your posture with prolonged sitting and standing.
  • Decrease forces applied on your body (i.e. lifting of objects, vibrating tools).
  • Take frequent breaks (not just physical but mental as well).
  • Keep moving!



This article was submitted by Jenilee Fortein who practises at the Fourways branch in the Intercare Centre. She’d be happy to provide advice on your posture or workplace ergonomics concerns. Contact her using our handy appointment form.

Resources / References

  • Sundstrup E, Jakobsen MD, Brandt M, Jay K, Persson R, Aagaard P, Andersen LL. Workplace strength training prevents deterioration of work ability among workers with chronic pain and work disability: a randomized controlled trial. Scand J Work Environ Health 2014; 40(3):244-251 doi:10.5271/sjweh.3419
  • The Ergonomics Society of South Africa
  • Desk set-up and Pictures- Ergonomic Solutions