Six months ago, Shaun Tassavur’s physiotherapist gave him an ultimatum — stay away from the computer, or undergo surgery. A 25 year-old media professional from Virar, Tassavur would spend eight to nine hours glued to his PC, not realising that the mild pain in his wrist had developed into Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It is a disease of the hand characterised by numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness.
The disease typically affects the thumb, index, and middle fingers. People with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome face a higher pressure in the carpal tunnel (located in the central part of the wrist) that causes irritation. “I took it seriously only when I heard the word surgery. My wrist would hurt severely in the mornings, and whenever I tried to lift something,” he recalls. Finally, he invested Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,800 to buy an ergonomic mouse and keyboard respectively to save his wrist. Both the products have been helpful. “I knew I couldn’t cut down on my working hours, so it was important to make my body comfortable,” says Tassauvur.
Like him, Indian employees are slowly waking up to the reality of work-related injuries caused by improper posture and non-ergonomic equipment. This, even though the increase in the number of leaves and decrease in productivity due to office injuries was first noticed in Europe 10 years ago. Today, city employers too are taking a cue from multi-national companies and stepping in to make the workspace ergonomically sound for their employees. They are treating them as holistic individuals and not just resources.
Five years ago, 33 year-old Swati Paranjpe began to get severe back and neck aches. Her doctor diagnosed it as repetitive stress injury. “My job as a graphic designer has me sitting at the computer for 10 hours at a stretch. I could not hold the right posture for too long. This went on for almost a year, as I assumed it would subside on its own. Finally, three years ago, I bought two ergonomic chairs — one for home and one for office,” says the Andheri resident, who spent Rs 21,000 on each chair.
Similarly, Hiral Shah, joined a software development company in Malad two months ago. Within a month the 26 year-old ended up with a stiff neck and lower back pain. “Mine is purely a desk job with very little reason to get up and very little space to walk around in office. Here, as at most workplaces, the desks are meant for an average male’s height. So, I have to keep my adjustable chair to the highest setting and my feet swell up since they are hanging in the air. If I pull the chair lower so that my feet rest comfortably, my shoulders are raised and back is hunched. I had been alternating postures for the last one month, that’s when the shoulder pain began,” says the Juhu resident, who has worked at Adobe in the US for four years. There, she had an in-house ergonomic expert who personally assessed her posture and fine-tuned the adjustable tables and chairs to suit her body type.
With those wonder days behind her, Shah decided to make her own adjustments. She invested in a small footrest to make life easy. “The footrest helps relieve my feet of pressure since they don’t have to be unsupported for long hours,” says Shah, who now shells out Rs 450 on physician-mandated physiotherapy sessions.
Ergonomic products are mainly imported and not manufactured in India, which makes them expensive. “People are reluctant to pay a few extra bucks for prevention of health problems but are ready to shell out any amount for treatment,” says Suraj Choksi, CEO, Back Rx Spine Care, Worli that sells ergonomically designed products. While there is no market study for this industry, Choksi’s sales figures have shown an increase of 200 per cent in the sale of ergonomic products in the last three years.
At Nerolac’s five factories spread across the country, ergonomic training is provided to employees who have to lift and move cartons of all shapes and sizes. “Every month, we call ergonomic specialists to explain to workers how to carry a particular weight and save their bodies from injuries and spasms,” says Shrikant Bikhale, vice president, HR, Nerolac.
A year ago, the company also started an ergonomic awareness programme for its desk staff. Powerpoint presentations and exercise routines are uploaded on their internet portal so that employees can perform the exercises at their desks. “The PPTs inform employees about illnesses that are creeping into workplaces such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, back and neck problems, and solutions to keeping them at bay,” says Bikhale. The company also conducts a monthly programme called Samvas, which means dialogue. In each session, a specialist is invited to speak to employees on health topics, which range from diabetes and stress management to the importance of exercise.
The training has worked wonders for Indrajeet Saluja, a 24 year-old IT executive working in the company. “I heard the term ergonomics for the first time at the presentation. Not all body types are the same, but tiny adjustments help fit your body to your workstation,” he says. Today, during an eight-hour workday, he makes time to perform small exercises to keep aches and pains at bay. “After lunch, I follow the wrist exercises mentioned in the training module, which helps keep my hand light and flexible,” she explains.
For employees of JWT, an advertising firm in Lower Parel, it is time to switch off on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 6 pm. Yoga Acharya Utkarsh Sanjanwala conducts a yoga session for 15 employees and helps them stretch out their tired, sedentary muscles, and relax the body. The sessions have helped Ishita Mehar, an account manager at JWT, sleep soundly. “Being an ad agency, our schedules are erratic — we have an in-time, but we never know what time we will go home,” smiles Mehar, who was suffering from backache, headaches, eye strain and disturbed sleep. “Now, I end up working two hours even after the session,” she smiles.
“The problems of a desk job are many — sitting for long hours, constant body conditioning due to air conditioners, stressful travelling to work. My class focuses on de-stressing them, ensuring they have a good time and leave the room feeling refreshed,” says Sanjanwala, who focuses mostly on Yog Nidra, Pawan Muktasan and Prananyam, as these asanas relax the entire body. “Participants practice at their own pace, as the aim is to rejuvenate and heal, not to exhaust them,” says Sanjanwala, who has devised unique 7-10 minute packages of asanas, mudras, pranayam and bandhas for employees with
specific problems to perform during the day.
Product List >>
Keeps the back properly aligned with a special mesh to support the back. and naturally conform to the shape of your body.
Cost: Rs 7000, Back Rx Spine Care
It helps reduce Carpal Tunnel Syndrome due to its natural wrist and arm alignment.
Cost: Approx Rs 3,800, Available at all electronic stores
It assumes the natural position of your wrists and does not require you to twist your forearm.
Cost: Rs 1,800, Available at all electronic stores
Supports the neck and minimises the pressure on the upper back.
Cost: Rs 3263, Back Rx Spine Care
5 questions for Girish N, Asst professor, Dept of Physiotherapy, Manipal University
What is the importance of office ergonomic facilities?
The importance of ergonomics is prevention and rehabilitation. It is the science that helps in the prevention of work-related injuries / disorders which arise due to various risk factors at work such as faulty postures, repetitive motions, contact stress and the use of inappropriate furniture. These disorders are progressive in nature and are diagnosed after many years at work. Application of the principles of ergonomics helps in the prevention of work-related injuries.
How does an ergonomic facility help up the productivity of employees?
Directly, it improves the biomechanical efficiency of working and indirectly, it reduces absenteeism, hospital expenses, and results in improved self-esteem and better psychological morale.
What are the points that employers can keep in mind for the benefit of their employees?
Employees must be educated regarding good working positions and postures, the risk factors present in the job and how to avoid / reduce those. The office furniture should be occupation savvy. Companies should provide appropriate engineering or administrative level modifications if risk factors for injuries are identified. Physical fitness programmes should be conducted regularly.
What are the negative aspects of poor ergonomic facilities at workplaces?
A bad working posture will increase the risk of injuries, as the incorrect posture is maintained day after day.
How can one overcome them on a personal / individual level?
People must identify the risk factors at the earliest, and make simple but crucial arrangements to their workstations. Simple things such as feet touching the ground and being perpendicular to the body, keeping the screen at eye level, a well-supported back, etc, can go a long way. And everyone who has a desk job must get some exercise in the day.