The Workstation and Physical Problems

Ergonomics has shown that poor workplace design and bad work habits are counterproductive and costly. Ergonomics has made great strides in many industries; yet this is not true for the computer workstation, a relatively new work setup, an employer of about some 100 million workers in the United States alone.

A major problem: All books that used to stand on shelves and all the files that used to be in file cabinets now scroll before your eyes, keeping us seated all day.

A second problem: CRT users are incorrectly presumed to be lowering their productivity when not at their monitors.

A third problem: Incorrectly designed workstations force computer users to sit in awkward positions.

Sitting absolutely still all day at a desk is an entirely new development in the history of business. Among office workers, the primary cause of back pain is sitting--lack of physical exercise, lack of physical variation, lack of even the slightest movement.

More force is exerted on the spine during sitting than standing. In fact, within 90 seconds of sitting, incorrect pressure is exerted on spinal discs. Sitting unflinchingly exacerbates the problem of sitting itself, causing discomfort in general and increasing back pain.

Awkward positions can result in other problems--headache and neckache, for instance. Problems causing pain and discomfort decrease accuracy, productivity and morale. Health costs have soared over the past decade and claims rates continue to surge.

Remember, pain and discomfort are the body's way of telling you something is wrong, that damage may be occurring. Effectively safeguarding the body against pain and discomfort can prevent damage too.

First, sitting at a workstation all day is a new work condition and can take its toll on computer operator health. It won't surprise you that lack of comfort, with its resulting aches and pains, lowers productivity and increases the frequency of insurance claims, absenteeism and turnover. These results cost you and they cost your company.

Let's examine the stumbling blocks that challenge the natural efficiency of our bodies and see how the removal of those obstacles promotes comfort, thereby maximizing productivity, maybe even getting you a pay raise.

Time and again, I suggest assuming certain positions, and holding these positions while working. However, let me make clear that you shouldn't hold these positions for more than a few minutes at a time. The positions are suggested for providing maximum comfort over the long term. But they optimize comfort and health only when coupled with regular, intermittent breaks built into your schedule.

Thus, you can assume these positions and hold them while working at your monitor, but you still must break regularly--four or five times per hour--and do appropriate stretching at your desk. In addition, you can take a brisk 10-minute walk at noon and a vigorous 20 to 30 minute walk after you get home. Then you will be taking my advice as a whole, which is what is intended.

It is my best advice that for the first three hours of CRT work you move physically away from your workstation every 30 minutes and not return for a full minute or two. As the day progresses, if you are still doing CRT work, you should have a break every 30 minutes for two or three minutes. This point will be emphasized throughout this book. It is most important.

Note that exercises are well-rounded, and--if you include vigorous walks--they maximize movement of all parts of your body.

Repeatedly, I recommend three solutions in particular for most physical problems, in spite of the vast differences in symptoms.

First, I recommend workstation design based on your analysis of your physique, your physical requirements and the problems you are experiencing at your workstation.

Second, I recommend postures for working, sitting, and standing that prevent, by day's end, the symptoms of physical stress and discomfort.

Third, I strongly recommend frequent breaks away from your workstation. You must grasp that the body was never intended for static (i.e., still) vs. dynamic (i.e., moving) work. Every study on the human body reinforces this concept. You will be healthy and pain-free only if you move about at your workstation and get away routinely for brief work productivity breaks.

The following guidelines help prevent problems caused by workstations. However, remember that good workstation design and regular exercise are suggested in addition to--not instead--an annual medical examination. If you have been having aches and pains at your workstation, only a proper medical exam can ascertain the presence of organic health problems.

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Copyright 1997 CRT Service, Inc.