Understanding why ergonomics matter
Story and photos by Kathy Eastwood
Nearly 53 percent of workers report they are uncomfortable in the workplace and, on average, 34 days a year are lost due to injury to workers because of the equipment they use at their workstations, according to Sasha Burn, associate ergonomist speaking at the Preventive Medicine Department’s Industrial Hygiene Open House in Bldg. 606 June 14.
Ergonomics is the science of equipment and device design to fit the body in the workplace to ensure employees are comfortable and safe.
“Ergonomics is about the comfort of the worker,” Burn said. “It is about designing products that are adjustable, comfortable and using the right type of lighting. 90 percent of computer users experience computer vision syndrome, which includes watering or strained eyes.”
This is where good lighting factors in. An ergonomic workplace should include a full-spectrum lighting system that reduces glare from other surfaces better than fluorescent lighting.
Burn said 33 percent of the U.S. workforce uses laptops, which are smaller than the average computer.
“Many people sit hunched over their laptops or bent forward looking at the screen, which creates strain in the back and neck,” she said.
Laptop users can learn to use their computers in an ergonomic way by using a laptop stand, angling the screen to prevent bending the head and neck and attaching a regular sized external keyboard placed on an adjustable keyboard tray or desk positioned slightly below the elbows.
Often, people will attempt to adjust for comfort by placing a pillow on the back of the chair.
“This may seem a bit more comfortable, but still can cause injury because it doesn’t conform to the shape of the back and pushes the back forward,” Burn said. “Probably everyone here has been told by their parents to sit up straight. Sitting straight in your desk chair still can cause injuries. You should sit slightly reclined in the seat and about arms length to the keyboard.”
Ergonomic designers have produced adjustable workstations that will fit any worker; adjustable chairs that fit the curvature of the spine, which prevents back and shoulder pain; computer monitors that are adjustable to be at eye level and computer mice that can be used by either a right or left-handed person by flipping the mouse over. A vertical mouse is designed to be more comfortable in the hand and promotes a neutral wrist and forearm motion.
“I have carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis,” Donna Webb, a Navy Federal Credit Union employee, said. “I was able to get a note from my doctor that I should be using a vertical mouse at work. My employer purchased one for me. I just started using it yesterday and find it to be a lot more comfortable than the regular mouse. It just feels more natural.”
The Preventive Medicine Open House was designed to make people aware of what they can do at their workstations and inform them about products designed to be more comfortable and prevent work-related injuries.
To learn more about ergonomics, its benefits and the services offered, call 938-5837.