Workplace ergonomics is getting a lot of nationwide attention in response to a sharp increase in incidents of repetitive-strain injuries resulting in musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Occupational diseases often mean repeated surgery, intractable pain, inability to work, time off for the affected employee and, ultimately, higher costs for the employer.
Below are four steps a company can take to address this growing problem.
Review tasks for risk factors: The first step to correcting problems is to understand the key workplace ergonomic risk factors, and review work tasks in your operation to see which ones apply. This can make a tremendous difference, since occupational safety professionals estimate that reducing physical stresses could eliminate as much as half the serious injuries that happen each year.
Control risk factors with engineering and administrative controls, and personal equipment, where it is effective: Engineering controls to improve ergonomic risks may include changing the way parts and materials are transported, or changing the process to reduce how workers are exposed to risk factors.
Understand how to make the work space work ergonomically: With any task, selecting the proper tool is crucial. The key is to understand the work process and employee’s safety needs. After identifying the likely risk factors in an operation, develop a safer work environment by carefully selecting the tools and work stations workers will use.
Use work station design principles to improve ergonomics: The following strategies typically yield safe work environments: make the work station adjustable, locate materials to reduce twisting, avoid static loads and fixed work postures, set the work surface to the particular task, provide adjustable chairs, allow workers to alternate between standing and sitting, support the limbs, use gravity, design for proper movements, consider computer monitors, provide simple dials and displays, and consider overall environmental conditions.
To counteract tendonitis, I've occasionally used a simple adjustable velcro band that goes around the lower arm, just below the elbow. It works by compression, right on the tendon cluster that controls the fingers. There are several different ones available. I also find a touchpad even better than a mouse--except for the cursor movements of editing--and definitely can't use a trackball.
Excellent post Jim. I am assuming by the title you mean office environment AND factory floor environment. Prior to retirement, I was engineering support to three production lines; two gas assembly countertop lines and one gas slide-in gas range line. The number of "fatigue" injuries was remarkably high, in my opinion, and exceedingly difficult to solve with fixtures and tooling alone. We did incorporate automation to some degree but the best solution seeded to be rotating personnel so that a maximum of three hours per day on the most difficult job was the answer. I think this solution certainly follows from the four recommendations you made in you post.
A colleague of mine just got a joystick style mouse after trying a few other designs. He loves it. The joystick itself doesn't move like a gaming one; the whole device moves just as a standard optical mouse would and the handgrip is fixed. The only thing is that it is USB tethered, not wireless.
Monitors - everyone has their own suggestions for position, etc. If I had a 27" 2560x1440p screen, what do you recommend for position from the face?
Wrists/hands - I use a Microsoft 5000 curves keyboard. My problems were then solved after that. But voice recognition is a good idea. I will look into it. I used it when the software first came out. It was fun, but crude at the time (the year 1997). I'm sure 15 years has made it better.
Desk- I have a regular desk and a standing desk. Alternating between the two is a good way to break fatigue.
Cabe, if you are behind a computer and using one as much as you do...well I would think that you would come up with your own solution. I am behind one as much as you, and have been for more years than you for sure. I don't sit behind a desk, I don't do much of what "normal people" do...I can't. I spend too much time behind the pc, so I created my own way to make it comfortable, I suggest you do the same. It's a long road.
I just hate seeing people suffer using computers in situations that are totally avoildable if they just use a little common sense. Also, employers should be the ones not forcing uncormfortable computer setups on employees.
Cabe, they do make gloves that help reduce the stress on your hands. I bought some years ago. They have supports in the palms and no fingers...might look into those...they helped me when I was drafting full time.
I also want to say...most people do not realize the placement of their monitor. I see it all the time. Look it up. Your eyes should gently look down towards the monitor. It reduces eye strain. I have seen montiors so far above the desk it's ridiculuos. Neck and eye strain. I read about this years ago and have adhered ever since.
A customer who was thermal printing strip steel had a problem: When the strip's speed increased, the thermo printer would catch fire. When he set a flame to a piece of the strip, he couldn't get it to burn. What was the problem?
Engineers are well positioned to be the leaders for innovation in this new age of machines. Human-centered design enables us to manage the vast amounts of information and the power of technology in solving the world’s problems.