5 tips for a healthy back at the point of sale

While the general workplace problem is that people spend too much of their working day sitting down, the exact opposite is true for jobs at the point of sale (POS). People working there spend most of their time on their feet. Standing and short walking distances coupled with frequent changes of direction put strain on joints and lead to tensions in the muscular support structures. Office and warehouse activities bring their own additional stress situations. Unlike office work, we are actually dealing with a varied and multi-faceted activity. However, most of the work is done standing up, which brings with it the negative effects mentioned. 

For more than 20 years now, the IGR Institut für Gesundheit und Ergonomie (Institute for Health and Ergonomics) in Nuremberg has been busy with the ergonomic optimisation of workplaces. The health of the working person is constantly at the centre of their work. Whether in the office or in industry and the trades, one thing is always true: every initiative to improve working conditions must apply the existing norms and regulations and be fully comprehensible for those involved. 

On-site ergonomics: practical ergonomics

Technical improvements only have a value if they are also applied properly. This is what experts means when they talk about "behavioural ergonomics". The goal can only be achieved in the long term through sustainable anchoring of ergonomically correct behaviour.

Tip 1: Shoes – best foot forward

Shoes are particularly important. They should be comfortable and, where possible, also have a specially formed footbed. This allows them to prevent premature fatigue when standing for long periods of time and the support they provide will also have a soothing effect on the joints. Modern work shoes combine comfort, functionality and style. Despite all fashion-consciousness, the female foot also enjoys making it through the day without heels.

Tip 2: Floor – a spring in your step all day long

Behind the counter, mats make it easier to stand on hard floors, as the elasticity of the material takes the pressure off joints. Small motion impulses are triggered that break up unhealthy stationary postures and stimulate the muscles into making compensatory movements. The buzzword is 'floors' – a considerable amount of research has been carried out into them and, as a study by the IGR discovered. Modern elastic floor coverings contribute in a lasting way to reducing the burden on the locomotor system when walking and standing.

Tip 3: Sitting – staying active while seated

What can be done to prevent tiresome periods of standing still? In order to take weight off the joints of the locomotor system, a standing aid can be used in areas where sitting is not permitted. What applies to sitting on an office chair also applies to standing aids: feet flat on the ground, position yourself as close to the desk as possible. Calibrate the height in such a way that the lower arms rest lightly on the arm rests (which are level with the upper surface of the desk). Elbows and knees should be at around 90 degrees. Dynamic sitting comes recommended and consists of changing your sitting position more frequently from a relaxed, reclined position through to perching on the forward seat edge. Ensure you use the correct counter-pressure for the brace function of the seatback and try as far as possible not to lock this. The best thing is to always remain in motion, even when seated. 

Tip 4: Bending, lifting, carrying – the right technique

When lifting heavy items, always try to lift from a squatted position, not with your back. Always carry weights close to the body and avoid unbalanced loads. Use transport devices whenever possible. Also, avoid excessive or one-sided bending or stretching when filling or taking items off shelves, whether this is in the storeroom or in the sales room. Pay attention to whether ladders and climbing aids are stable. Even if it needs to be done quickly, always follow occupational health and safety regulations and those of the trade associations!

Tip 5: Movement and relaxation – it's all in the variety

Standing is also something that can be learned: stand up straight, take your shoulders back and then sink them downwards. This ensures a relaxed posture and easy breathing. The most important thing is to keep moving: circle your shoulders and hips, shake out your legs and rise up on your tiptoes. Make sure you get enough breaks – and that you take them. A short walk will provide for movement and fresh air.

Special exercises: 5 minutes for the back

The internet is full of them and serves as a source of inspiration. Advice from healthcare insurers such as AOK, TK, DAK and Barmer in Germany, has proven to be effective. One example is AOK’s health channel (in German)

Sensible distribution of tasks

In general it is sensible not to have to do the same thing all the time – and certainly not over too long a period of time. It starts with dividing up tasks within the sales team. If all employees rotate around the work duties then, besides ensuring physical relief, it also promotes a cooperative working environment amongst colleagues and helps to avoid frustration. It has also been proven that excessive and insufficient workloads, as well as monotony, all lead to psychological stress. This has the same (long-term) effects as for physical complaints: increased sick leave and the phenomenon of inner resignation.

Outside help

Health insurers offer different measures for improving occupational health and are happy to provide companies with suitable (free) materials and other services. This could, for example, be training sessions with fitness trainers, nutritional advice or support in organising a health day. The IGR also helps in getting the message across clearly about healthy working. Owners or occupational health officers work together with the person responsible on-site to develop concepts to implement concrete action. This could be a poster with easy-to-follow loosening exercises, with a link to fitness exercises on YouTube. Or, it could be nutritional stimuli, such as a fresh fruit bowl in the staff room as an incentive to ditch the fast food more often! The experts from Nuremberg can move in with the "heavy artillery" to analyse workplaces using computer-aided tools and make the strains of the relevant activity visible using the traffic light principle. For more information, refer to: https://igr-ev.de/workplace-analysis/?lang=en

After work is before work

After a stressful day at work, it is often the only conceivable place to be: the sofa. Stressed power sellers have permission to do themselves some good and treat themselves to some time out here. Doing sport just because your guilty conscience is obliging you to doesn't allow you to get the real benefit out of exercise, i.e. enjoyment. A balance between relaxation and physical activity, rounded off with healthy eating, will help you to stay fit for the job. That way, the next working day will start with a winning smile!

About the author

The IGR Institut für Gesundheit und Ergonomie e.V. (institute for health and ergonomics) is part of a powerful network. Doctors, physiotherapists, scientists, operational health management staff, government representatives, product developers and retailers – they are all concerned with health and ergonomics. The institute has been based in Nuremberg since its foundation in 1998 and started with back training courses for children. Today the IGR pays attention to safety and health at work, advises companies on the ergonomic design of both administration and production workplaces. In addition to the workplace analyses, it also carries out risk assessments and certifies ergonomic products. A comprehensive training and seminar programme rounds off the range of services.

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