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Electrically Actuated Workstations Relieve Muscle Strain

Electrically Actuated Workstations Relieve Muscle Strain

Fresh research from a prominent ergonomics expert verifies what most of us instinctively knew: changing positions relieves the strains of cubicle life.

Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University's Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Laboratory studied 53 office professionals who spend most of their day in front of computers, including Intel design engineers in Santa Clara, CA, and CNA insurance workers in Chicago. Participants were asked to compare their experiences working at least one month at a fixed-height workstation with a similar period at electric height-adjustable workstations. Among the chief findings:

* Participants reported nearly 20 percent less musculosketal discomfort with the electric stations, which allowed them to raise work surfaces from a sitting position to a standing position in a few seconds.

* In terms of the perceived impact of workstations on productivity, nearly 58 percent of the workers said the adjustable stations were a clear plus, compared to only 20 percent citing productivity gains with fixed-height stations.

* And in terms of overall satisfaction, nearly two thirds stated a definite preference for the electric stations. Only one individual favored the fixed station.

Stated one worker: "As soon as I started to get any pain, I adjusted the table height, and the pain went away."

And from another participant: "The varying heights definitely helped avoid repetitive stress in a big way."

Three of the Intel engineers were so happy with being able to work sitting or standing that they refused to relinquish their adjustable stations at the end of the study.

Playing Catch-Up: Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell says the U.S. lags behind Europe and Australia in introducing adjustable workstations.

Consistent with past research
The results did not surprise Professor Hedge, who cites a history of ergonomic studies showing that "the best position is the next position." But he adds that it is very difficult to vary positions at work when you can't adjust the height of the workstation. Moreover, the study showed that the employees preferred to stand while working 20 percent of the day.

However, adjustable stations that rely on hand cranks don't do the job, says Hedge. "They aren't as easy to use," he told Design News, "plus the loads can be quite heavy, especially with the large monitors that many engineers use."

Earnest Ray, the site ergonomist at Intel's Santa Clara headquarters, adds that being able to stand and work caters to the habits of engineering teams, who frequently meet for impromptu sessions during the day to review each other's designs. "Our cubes are small-about 8 ft by 9 ft-and it can be uncomfortable when two or three engineers must lean over to view a design on a monitor."

The adjustable workstations used in the Cornell study are manufactured by WorkRite Ergonomics. Petaluma, CA (www.workriteergo.com) and incorporate Desklift DB4 electric actuators from LINAK (www.linak-us.com), a Danish company with U.S. Offices in Louisville, Ky.

Derek Manz, a technical services manager for LINAK, notes that the actuator is compact-just 22 inches when installed-yet raises a work surface a total distance of 26.6 inches in as little as 15 seconds. Key components include: a quiet, 18V DC electric motor and a dual-sprocket chain drive system. In workstation setups where more than one actuator is used to lift larger surfaces, LINAK's CBD4 control box automatically aligns each desk column's height to provide an even work surface, based on positioning feedback from hall sensors attached to the actuator motors.

"The LINAK actuators give us the quality we need at the right price point," says Todd Hauge, WorkRite president, who sees growing demand for electric adjustable workstations, despite the 25-percent price premium such stations demand versus hand-cranked adjustable stations and the 40-percent premium versus fixed stations. "Engineers are part of the creative class who create the value in our economy, and it makes sense for companies to invest in their productivity," says Hauge.

Manz agrees that large companies in particular-especially those building new facilities--increasingly choose electric adjustable workstations. At his location, notes Intel ergonomist Ray, engineers are issued these workstations on a case-by-case basis, typically related to health and productivity reasons. But given the proven benefits of the electric stations, Rays adds: "I usually support their requests."

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