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What Is Ergonomics and How Does It Affect Me?


er-go-nom-ics (Greek, ergon, work: nomos, laws.)


"The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort".


What is Ergonomics?

 Every time we sit down on a chair, sofa, or bench and stand up again, every time we jump into a car, adjust our seat and rear-view mirror, every time we open the refrigerator, dice carrots at the kitchen counter, work at the computer, scrub the floor, brush our teeth or watch TV, we are interacting with objects designed to serve humans.

 All are examples of Ergonomics.

 In our quest to create the perfect functional, efficient Home Office, Ergonomics takes center stage.

 It is said that in the U.S., 70% of the workforce sits on the job, many in front of computers. Neck and back pain are the most common reasons for lost work time. Sound familiar? We humans are not designed for a sedentary existence. We are built to move and stretch, not sit still in one place for long periods of time. No wonder we suffer from chronic neck and shoulder pain!

 Ergonomics comes into play in all aspects of the human experience. The physical stresses placed on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons and bones to environmental factors which can affect hearing, vision, general well-being and health.

 Physical stressors can include repetive motions: typing, continual use of a piece of equipment, vibration from a piece of machinery, or the strain produced from lifting heavy boxes. Working in an awkward position (such as propping the phone between your ears and shoulder) can cause painful long-term problems.

 Environmental factors could include excessive noise, "sick building syndrome" (headaches, congestion, fatique, rashes resulting from poor air quality in a building or office). Improper lighting can cause eyestrain and headaches, bad moods and poor concentration. Constant loud noise or aggravating music produce tension in the muscles, leading to chronic disorders; bad odors and noxious fumes can be a threat to over-all health; at the very least they cause tension, and we all know that prolonged tension can lead to a host of physical maladies.

 So it is clear that all of the senses come into play when dealing with Ergonomics. Although the science of Ergonomics is associated with the workplace, by most people, its principles apply to every room in your home, every hospital, every movie theater, every supermarket, and on and on.

 Back to your Home Office. The following are some excellent strategies to put into effect in creating a healthy and productive Home Office:

 The single most important item in your office is your chair!

 An ergonomically designed chair can represent an investment, but over years of constant use it will pay invaluable dividends. By keeping your body in good alignment you will save hundreds of dollars in doctor and chiropractic fees, as well as eliminate debilitating chronic maladies later in life, which can occur due to neglect in the present.

 You spend one-third of your life in bed. Buy a great mattress. You spend AT LEAST another third of your life in your office, in your chair. Buy a great chair. It's common sense.

 Choose a chair which keeps your upper and lower back in gentle alignment and equally distributes the pressure between your "sitting bones" and the back of your thighs. Knees should be at a 90-degree angle. Feet should rest flat on the floor, or on a slightly elevated foot rest.

 Chair seat height should allow a 90-degree bend from the elbow to access keyboard and minimal bend at the wrist.  The computer monitor line of sight should be up to 20-degrees below horizontal eye level.  Avoid using arm rests while working to reduce stress on your wrist and finger joints.

 What is Ergonomics? Are you getting the idea now?

 Telephone Placement

 Use a telephone headset (earphones) or a speakerphone if possible. This will keep your hands free, and take strain off your neck. If this is not an option, place your phone within reach of your left hand if you are right-handed, and vice versa, which will allow your dominant hand to write and perform other tasks while you are on the phone.

 Lighting/Protecting Your Eyes

 The optimal goal in lighting an office is to synthesize diffused daylight as well as you are able. Dropped ceilings with indirect light will produce an evenly diffused ambient light without glare, which is the big challenge when working on a computer. If there must be an exposed overhead light, be sure that it is off to the side of the computer. Lower light levels if necessary. Eyestrain in the workplace is most often caused by direct glare. Perhaps the worst damage caused by glare is that it causes you to change your posture to an awkward position in order to be able to see, thus creating cervical and shoulder problems down the line.

 A note on visuals: Eyes are strained more by close viewing than by distant viewing. Keep the monitor at least 25" away, preferably more. Reading is most "ergonomic" when the top of the monitor is tilted back slightly (observe that you tilt a magazine back slightly to read it easily). When in a vertical position it becomes very difficult to read. Try it and see.

 What is ergonomics? Read on. There is so much to know about protecting the human organism from daily stresses.

 Use window shades or blinds to block harsh sun. Keep task lights in appropriate places for project work.

 Your computer monitor should be at eye level, with a glare protection screen. People who wear bi-focals should have a separate pair of "computer glasses".  Wrist should not rest on the edge of the table, but can be supported on wrist-supports. Always strive to keep the arm, wrist and hand in gentle alignment. Keep the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible.

 Do not sit at the computer for longer than 50 minutes at a time. Follow the 50-10 rule: for every 50 minutes you work sitting at your desk, take a 10-minute break. During that break, walk around, stretch, drink some water, do what you want, as long as you are not sitting.

 What is Ergonomics? A good example, according to Dennis R. Ankrum, CIE, of Ankrum Associates, "the best posture is the next posture".

 So keep moving!

 NOTE: When planning your office space THINK ERGONOMICALLY, right down to the waste basket. Be sure it is large (or small) enough to serve your needs. Place it where you can drop something into it with minimal movement. Place your current client files a finger-tip away. Make a "Wish-List" of how you want your workspace to serve your needs, your systems. Then, step by step make it happen! What is Ergonomics? I hope I have supplied some useful answers to that question.


-Karen Saloomey


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