Ergonomics can be both the problem and the solution when it comes to arthritis among workers.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for 100 or so conditions that affect joints and connective tissue, typically causing pain or stiffness around the joints. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 50 million people in the U.S. say their doctors told them they have arthritis. At least half of the people with arthritis have work disabilities and activity limitations.
Occupational Risk Factors for Arthritis
While the precise causes of the various types of arthritis are unknown, overuse and repetitive motions—often due to poor ergonomic design– increase the risk of osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. Repetitive knee bending and squatting may lead to osteoarthritis of the knee. Assembly line work and other jobs where workers repeat the same movements for long periods of time can lead to arthritis in hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and fingers. Jobs that require constant heavy lifting can increase the risk for arthritis in knees, ankles, hips, spine, and neck.
Prolonged sitting or standing, common in offices, retail situations, industrial settings, and healthcare can contribute to osteoarthritis. As can whole body vibration, which occurs when operating heavy equipment or standing on vibrating platforms.
Ergonomic Design Helps Workers with Arthritis
Whether or not their jobs contributed to the arthritis, workers who have it may lose more work time and be less productive than other workers are. Ergonomic design can help workers with arthritis keep their jobs and stay productive.
Dr. Diane Lacaille at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada found that “workers whose workspaces had been ergonomically modified to be more comfortable were 60 percent less likely to be away from work due to disability.” (The Arthritis Society. Researcher aims to prevent arthritis-related work disability). Without great expense employers can make changes in equipment and job design to make it easier for worker with arthritis to continue working comfortably and productively.
Workers with arthritis differ in the accommodations they need, if they need any. It’s important to consult with the employee to find out what would be helpful before implementing changes. Following are a few examples of possible accommodations.
Equipment and Environment
- Voice recognition software
- Trackball mouse
- Wrist rest
- Ergonomically designed keyboard
- Sit-stand options
- Adjustable height workstations
- Space rest
- Accessible workspace
- Parking near entrance
- Automatic door openers
- Flexible work hours
- Job sharing
- Working from home
- Longer breaks
JAN, the Job Accommodation Network offers guidance on accommodations for employees with arthritis.
Accommodations Benefit Everyone
With one in five adults in the U.S. reporting doctor-diagnosed arthritis, most employers will need to accommodate workers with arthritis at some time. Making the needed changes is a win-win: workers can remain at their jobs and employers can maintain productivity. There’s no doubt–it’s less expensive to modify the job than to lose productivity.
The Arthritis Society. Researcher aims to prevent arthritis-related work disability. http://www.arthritis.ca/look%20at%20research/researcherssummary/dianelacaille/default.asp?s=1&province=sk
Job Accommodation Network. Employees with Arthritis. https://askjan.org/media/downloads/ArthritisA&CSeries.pdf