In the work place there are a number of tools employees use to accomplish the tasks critical to their job. Often, because employees are generally specialists, the same devices are used frequently throughout the work day. Because of this it is important to consider how people interact with the devices they use. There are a number of benefits of considering such interaction both in terms of safety, getting the job done efficiently, and preventing employee fatigue.
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science of creating devices and furniture, which function to fit the human body. Rather than simply creating furniture that can accommodate a person, ergonomics seeks to design furniture that works well with a person's body to prevent physical injury and strain. This is especially important in the work place, where decreased fatigue can have a huge impact on productivity. Also increasingly employees are holding employers accountable for providing them with ergonomic furniture and tools to accomplish their work, which have proven to help prevent some common health problems.
Problems Stemming from a Lack of Ergonomic Tools in the Office
Probably the most commonly known health problem related to ergonomics is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is a medical condition that arises from repetitive stress injuries; most commonly typing. Also, numerous back and knee injuries can arise from working in a space that does not pay proper attention to ergonomics. Many of these are easily preventable with proper ergonomic equipment that comforts areas of repetitive stress, and also forces users to work in ways that reduce stress to sensitive areas.
Repetitive Stress Injuries
Repetitive stress injuries are caused by frequently making the same motions and using the same nerves, and muscles. Not all of these are caused by non-ergonomic facilities. For instance teachers frequently get repetitive stress injuries from using chalkboards. That said ill-conceived products that lack attentiveness to ergonomic function can cause these types of injuries, or inflame them. A good example is the computer mouse that initially shipped with early iMac computers. This mouse was completely circular. This made holding the mouse stressful, and further made it difficult to tell what direction the mouse was in, meaning users frequently had to correct the mouse’s position; which required more stress of the same muscles, and nerves.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are many causes of carpal tunnel, and also cubital tunnel injuries. Chiefly however these are caused through either pinching the carpal, or cubital, nerves or due to using non ergonomic devices. Typical for large periods of time on traditional keyboards, especially with weak wrists, causes stress to the carpal nerve. Resting one’s arms in uncommon positions order to compensate for tired wrists can pinch the carpal nerve. Both conditions can require surgery to address. There are several devices that are designed to address this.
Ergonomic Solutions & Their Benefits
Keyboards & Mice
One of the earliest marketed ergonomic solutions was the ergonomic keyboard. These feature shapes that adapt to the shape of users’ hands. Because these devices fit the shape of the hand, users need to use less motions to accomplish the same result, and stress is reduced. Another approach used by keyboards and mice is to adapt to more normal positions which users do in natural activity, so that stress to weaker points is minimized.
Keyboard Pads, Wrist Rests, and Wrist Gloves
A more affordable option than expensive keyboards is keyboard pads. These are special pads on which users can rest their wrists when using a computer keyboard. These are not as effective as specially shipped keyboards as users’ hands are still placed in a position which is largely only used when operating a computer keyboard. Another answer to protecting carpal and cubital nerves is the use of special gloves when typing or using a computer mouse. These protect sensitive areas of the hands and wrist and also force users to keep their wrists in safer positions.
Screens & Monitors
Ergonomic computer monitors solve a problem of posture while operating a workstation. Typically they are designed to move into different positions, appropriate for the height and size of the user. This helps address spine and neck injuries that arise from using bad posture while trying to adapt to the position of the computer screen.
Chairs & Seats
A primary cause of bad posture is seating. While seated, people place most of their weight on the base of their spine. Ergonomic chairs generally try to reduce this weight and distribute it in other ways. Another chair set-up forces the user into a more upright position that is similar to standing. Many of these involve arms and leg supports that move a user closer to a kneeling position.
Further Resources & Ergonomic Organizations