When we hear the word “Ergonomics”, the majority of us immediately think of lifting correctly, our sitting position, how we stand, and the way we type on our keyboards. However, there is another sector of ergonomics that we very frequently overlook. This is the field of Visual Ergonomics, or the science of ensuring lighting, distance from computer screens, and signage coloring are all efficient and reduce eye strain to as low a factor as possible.
Due to an increased presence of computers in employee’s everyday lives, specifically at work, this area must be addressed. There must be an increase in awareness of how computer use and poor visual ergonomics leads to negative consequences for the employee and organization. The competitive edge of an organization relies on a healthy and efficient workforce.
Vision is an incredibly important sense to humans, it is estimated that 80% of all data we interpret is provided through eyesight (Anshel, 2006). The increase in computers and having to view monitors has increased exponentially over the last two decades. This causes issues when an organization’s ergonomics program does not take vision into account. Viewing monitors at eye-level or slightly higher is unnatural for human beings. This not only affects vision, but posture as well, leading to neck and back repetitive injuries (Anshel, 2006).
The central concepts of visual strain reduction focus on the fact that viewing monitors must be a part of the ergonomics program to have a healthy employee work force. Another concept is also geared towards visual ergonomics away from computer screens. Lighting in the environment is also very important. Proper attention to lighting creates less strain on employee’s eyesight, this may lead to less fatigue through the day and overall increase in work performance. Properly lit workstations also allow members to see hazards or warnings much easier (Anshel, 2006).
The main argument that proper attention to the visual ergonomics of a work environment is just as important as decreasing repetitive motion injuries through poor work flow. Without properly addressing this issue, health and vision issues are more likely to occur and workers are less able to perform as effectively. Attention to these factors must be part of the organizations ergonomics and safety program.
It is almost common knowledge that sitting with the wrong posture or lifting items wrong will increase the risk of injury. This same amount of effort must be placed on the visual senses as well. Educating on proper screen viewing heights, taking breaks from looking at computer screens, and adjusting lighting levels are important factors in today’s work force. This has become needed much more over the last 20 years due to the exponential increase in computers and their use.
The methods used to support this argument are derived from many medical and ergonomics studies conducted around the world. Medical data from the American Optometric Association was used to provide the evidence that poor ergonomics will harm vision. NIOSH and CDC studies were also used to support this argument as well as provide guidelines on how to correct the concerns in a work environment. Safety engineering groups were consulted to provide a peer based review of the issues and corrections. These groups lend to the authenticity and accuracy of the data contained, this is important when using this research to implement visual ergonomics into the safety program.
The advantages and issues are very clear and concise leaving little or no room for debate on the subject. With the increase of computers and viewing monitors in every industry, this subject provides a huge impact on today’s workforce. There is not a single industry that does not rely in some part on the visual senses of their employees. If that is not taken care of, the organization and the employees will suffer. The organization can also fall victim to increased workers compensation claims/rates and decreased efficiency.
In summary, the visual ergonomics argument provides a compelling call to action for every industry. The increase of computers in the everyday work lives of employees requires organizations to provide focus on this area. Adequate lighting in the environment is also very important, low light levels increase viewing strain and contribute to faster fatigue.
I will conclude this article in saying that visual ergonomics is an important aspect of any safety program. Through the use of adequate lighting levels and decreasing eyestrain, the most used sense of our employees can be protected. Awareness of this issue is important to ensuring a competitive edge is maintained and the workforce can safely and efficiently meet organizational goals.
Anshel, J. R. (2006). Visual Ergonomics in the Workplace: Improving eyecare and vision can enhance productivity. (cover story). Professional Safety, 51(8), 20-25.