Education: Ergonomics at Work
Ergonomics, simply put, molds workers with their working environments. For a company, ergonomics is a bottom-line oriented business bonus:  it reduces injuries and improves employee moral while saving money.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers lost more than 647,000 workdays in 1996 due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. That cost $15-$20 billion in workers’ compensation costs. Workers affected by these injuries not only have problems at work, many cannot complete simple household projects.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians, also called physiatrists, are trained and experienced in helping prevent and rehabilitate those same workplace injuries that affect a worker’s health and a company’s bottom line.

The strategic approach
“Develop ergonomic strategies,” says Robert Werner, MD, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  “Proper positioning, posture, equipment, and education are key elements to a successful ergonomic program,” he adds, “And it isn’t necessary to spend a fortune redesigning your office space to provide relief.”  Introducing ergonomic tools and education in bits and pieces are the best weapons to prevent injury in the workplace.  Counseling by a professional skilled in the area of ergonomics is an excellent first step.  A fifteen-minute assessment of a worker’s environment can potentially save employers and employees time and money in lost productivity, wages, and medical expenses.

Take five
“Pace your activity and include short, frequent breaks,” says Steve Geiringer, MD, professor of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.  In our deadline-driven world, employees frequently work for longer periods and then take a longer break expecting it will ease the progressive onset of pain.  The reality is that once you feel pain, the damage has already been done.  “Short, frequent breaks such as standing for about 30 seconds every 20 or 30 minutes provides a necessary break for your muscles,” says Dr. Geiringer.  These breaks revitalize your muscles with the oxygen necessary to function efficiently.

A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan tested work stations that moved employees throughout the day from a sitting to a standing position at their computer.  Seventy percent of the subjects preferred a work station with a sit/stand option compared to a conventional sitting only work station.  Workers also reported lower levels of back, neck and arm pain with the sit/stand option.

Business is a world where time lost is money lost.  “An office that is well-designed from the standpoint of ergonomics should result in fewer repetitive stress injuries (RSIs).  It will also result in less time off work for RSIs and neck/back injuries, improved employee satisfaction and therefore heightened productivity, and perhaps even improved employee retention,” says Dr. Geiringer.

Quick tips to remember at your desk
Don’t bend your wrists while typing.  Keep your wrists in a straight position, not flexed or bent.
Maintain good posture.  See the diagram below.  Sit back in your chair, not on the edge.  Keep your feet flat on the floor or use a footrest.
Relax your shoulders.
Position your mouse next to, and the same height as, your keyboard.  Keep it close to your body, try not to reach too far for your mouse.
Adjust your computer screen for your eyes.  Give your eyes a break by looking away form the screen periodically and focusing on a distant object.

Adjustments you can make to your work space
Ergonomic chairs
Glare screens for your computer
Telephone headsets, speakerphones, speed dial and phone placement
Document holders to use while typing
Wrist and mouse rests for keyboard
Keyboard and mouse trays for proper wrist position
Footrests for proper sitting position
Stand/sit typing stations

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