Ergonomics for the Standing Worker

By Lisa O’Dell, Vice President of Marketing, Wearwell

The word “ergonomics” is defined as “the natural laws of work”. Optimal performance, which many of us define as productivity, is the ultimate goal of ergonomic design. It’ therefore reasonable to expect that the implementation of ergonomic concepts offers tremendous value to any company, and can be realized with the creation of comfortable, healthy and safe work environments. Providing anti-fatigue matting for standing workers is an excellent example of ergonomic design. Past research has shown that long-term standing on hard surfaces negatively effects worker’ productivity and health. On a simplistic level everyone knows that it’s uncomfortable. On a more complex level, standing on hard surfaces is uncomfortable because leg muscles become static, continuously flexed in an attempt to keep your body in an upright position. In the short term, this reduces the natural flow of oxygen and blood back to your heart causing fatigue and blood pooling in lower extremities. In the long term, it will take a toll on your body in the form of varicose veins, low back pain, leg pain, and fallen arches, just to name a few of the most common ailments. The most functional, comfortable and effective solution for eliminating standing workers aches and pain is the use of well-designed anti-fatigue matting. These ergonomic products can play a huge part in injury prevention, the reduction of standing worker fatigue, and increased productivity.

Anti-fatigue mats work by encouraging subtle movement of leg and calf muscles. As the muscles contract and relax they pump blood back to the heart and eliminate blood pooling in the lower extremities which often occurs if a worker’s muscles are totally static.

Once anti-fatigue mats are installed, it is very common to hear stories about how they dramatically help a particular employee. For example, a Rolls Royce assembly plant recently purchased anti-fatigue matting for several operations including welding stations. One of their employees, a 39 year-old welder, suffered from Plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the connective tissue on the bottom of the foot. This is a very painful condition often caused by prolonged standing. Rolls Royce tried several remedies including gel insoles, which were found to be a nuisance and not very effective. After standing on Wearwell WeldSafe Anti-fatigue matting for several weeks, the production manager said that the welder was much more comfortable and had in fact stated that his work conditions are 90% improved.

Not all companies have such dramatic results, but virtually all would tell you that anti-fatigue mats make a very positive impact on their employee’ morale and performance. To insure that the overall experience with matting is good, it’ important to:

  1. Understand that you will probably not be able to please every employee because everyone enjoys a different level of comfort, and

  2. Select products that optimize performance.

Here are some classic examples:

  1. if you have an area where carts are pushed from workstation to workstation, it is best to find a product that will withstand cart traffic (ErgoDeck)

  2. if you have over-spray buy a mat that has an abrasive coating on the surface to provide necessary traction (Diamond-Plate with GritWorks!)

  3. buy wet area matting for wet areas and dry area matting for dry areas (24/Seven for wet areas and Diamond-Plate for dry areas)

  4. if you frequently reconfigure workstations or have very large areas to cover, look at the modular products on the market (ErgoDeck)

  5. if you use caustic chemicals in your facility, test the mat yourself to make sure it will withstand the rigors of your environment. (24/Seven CFR)

  6. if you have employees that require an extra level of comfort, look for the greater compression deflection test results or the lower durometer (UltraSoft Diamond-Plate)

Perhaps most importantly, always purchase anti-fatigue mats that adapt the work environment to the needs of the worker. This will ensure optimal performance and that is truly ergonomics at work.