Home>Trade Body>BSiF>Be good to your feet
Home>Health & Wellbeing>Ergonomics>Be good to your feet

Be good to your feet

29 April 2013

David Lummis discusses the advances in the world of flooring that can benefit workers who are on their feet most of the day

David Lummis discusses the advances in the world of flooring that can benefit workers who are on their feet most of the day

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, once said: "Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground." I would add, be kind to your feet, avoid standing on hard floors and opt instead for work station mats or ergonomic flooring. Ergonomic mats and flooring can make life that bit easier for workers and more financially rewarding for companies.

Bad footing Standing on your feet all day on a hard surface can lead to musculoskeletal disorders including lower back pain, painful legs and feet and possibly varicose veins. Even though there has been a general downward trend in musculoskeletal disorders in the UK since 2001/2002, employees still suffer from Lower Limb Disorders (LLD). One of the causes of LLDs recognised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is standing for more than two hours without a break.

According to HSE statistics about 20% of all work-related musculoskeletal disorders affect the lower limbs. In 2009/10 an estimated 94,000 people in Britain who had worked in the last 12 months suffered from an LLD caused or made worse by their work. Of these, an estimated 30,000 were new cases, which is about 100 out of every 100,000 workers in Britain.

The HSE estimates that each case of LLD means a worker taking an average of 25 days off work; about 2.4 million working days were lost because of LLDs in 2009/10. Research suggests that 50% of cases of surgically-treated knee osteoarthritis (OA) and 30% of surgically-treated hip OA were related to occupational factors.

But can anything be done to prevent LLDs? The key is prevention. Research has shown that having a softer surface to stand on, such as anti-fatigue mats and cushioned shoe insoles, can reduce fatigue and discomfort associated with standing for prolonged periods. In 2004, researchers from Milwaukee in the US tested three different flooring conditions for assembly line workers. After an eight hour shift, workers filled out a questionnaire rating comfort and fatigue. The general response was less fatigue and improved comfort with softer flooring such as an anti-fatigue mat and cushioned shoe insole.

Ergonomic mats Independent studies at both the University of Michigan and Loughborough University prove the beneficial results of standing on ergonomic mats versus hard floor surfaces. Anti-fatigue mats have been proven to reduce the physical stress of standing by 50%, thus reducing the physical damage on the feet, legs, back and neck. The studies showed that standing on a hard floor leads to an immobile standing pattern, that can cause significant stiffness and poor circulation, leading to medical problems such as varicose veins, arthritis in the knees and hips, Achilles tendonitis and other orthopaedic changes such as flat feet.

Ergonomically correct mats have a positive impact on workers' health, wellness and morale and significantly reduce workplace accidents, downtime and absenteeism. The benefits have been so convincing that many businesses are now exploring how to achieve the same productivity and cost improvements across their entire facility, not just in areas where there are clearly defined workstations.

Ergonomic flooring The main difference between work station mats and ergonomic flooring is the ability to properly customise the product on-site.

Workers who are standing for more than two or three hours at work are more likely to experience physical stress and fatigue, but with the introduction of ergonomic flooring this can be significantly reduced.

One highly desirable characteristic of ergonomic flooring is the ability to reconfigure the product; Elliot Greenberg, CEO of Wearwell, a leading provider of floor solutions says: "Customers demand the ability to change the layout of a work cell or assembly line area without having to reinvest a substantial amount of money in new flooring. Flooring products that can easily be disassembled and re-assembled to fit the changing needs of the customer are critical." The BSIF agrees that products like ergonomic mats and flooring can contribute significantly to the complete approach that many companies now take when addressing employee health and safety. Not only can they improve posture and general wellbeing, but the emphasis on reducing fatigue and absenteeism also boosts productivity.