Aeron the side of ergonomics

Arguably one of most coveted status symbols in corporate America is the Aeron chair. Priced at nearly $1,000, it is considered such prime butt real estate that potential employees have been known to stipulate it by name as part of their compensation package.

If you have ever used an Aeron chair, you know what all the hoopla is about. Everything adjusts. The back is supported. The eight-hour work day whizzes by until you, the thoroughly happy and back-pain-free worker, can clock out. Fine and dandy, but few small business owners can afford such office supply luxuries.

Just how important is it to make your small business ergonomically safe and healthy for employees? Legally speaking, not that important.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a federal ergonomics standard that went into effect early last year - only to be repealed by the Bush administration two months later. The administration claimed that the standard was overly broad and expensive to implement. It could be at least a couple of years before a new standard is released.

But just because you're not legally obligated, that doesn't mean you should not make your employees work environment safe. Consider what workplace injuries can cost you – the business owner – in terms of productivity, absenteeism, and worker's compensation. Here are the most common areas where you can apply ergonomics in the office:

Seating: Let's go ahead and assume you can't buy your employees a round of Aeron chairs. You can still make sure the chairs you do buy adjust the height, backrest, and armrests to suit your body type. The chair should allow the feet be planted firmly on the ground, with the legs at a right angle to the floor, and the thighs resting against the cushion. The seat should be rounded in front to prevent cutting circulation off behind the knee, and your weight should be distributed evenly on the seat. The chair's height should allow wrists to be straight while typing.

Computer Monitors: Elevating a monitor using some thick books or tilting the monitor so that you can look at the first line of text at eye level can significantly reduce the risk of eyestrain, headaches, and neck and back pain. Changing the brightness of the screen, and dimming overly bright office lighting, can help too. Document holders that attach to your monitor and hold documents in front of you can reduce eyestrain and neck pain as well.

Keyboards: Forearms and wrists should be parallel to a keyboard when typing. A keyboard drawer or an adjustable keyboard platform can go a long way to ensuring this ergonomically sound typing position.

Wrist rests: These little gel-cushions can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome by keeping your wrist straight as you rest in between using the mouse. Note that your wrist should never rest on the cushion as you type or move the mouse, however.

Footrests: These help take the strain off your legs and back if your chair and desk are not of the appropriate height.

In terms of cost, there is no comparison between the pain or injury to an employee (not to mention lost productivity and sick time) and these relatively inexpensive solutions. Take some time and help your staff understand the importance of following good ergonomic practices.