The Ergonomic Chair

By gildalit

Ergonomic Chair

ergocloud ergonomics

In many ergonomic consultations, the very first sentence I hear from employees is: “my chair is so uncomfortable! Could it be replaced?” Or – “I’m used to sitting this way and I don’t have any pains”.

Do these sentences reflect a real problem, or are they uttered as a result of thought patterns we have grown accustomed to?

Usually I find that most complaints reflect a lack of basic knowledge of how to adjust the seat properly, how high or how far away from the table to sit and where to place the hands. In my experience, most employees use the chair just as it was when they received it, with no attempt to change the backrest angle or height, the seat depth, or even the seat height.

Quite often I come across tall people sitting on a chair that fits shorter people and vice versa.

Ergonomic engineers invest a lot of time, thought and effort in designing a chair with a variety of adjustment options that will be easy to operate. Unluckily, in reality many people are simply too afraid to try and manipulate the chair, and even if they do make adjustments, they do not always perform them properly.

I have often wondered about the reason for that. Don’t people listen to what their own bodies tell them? What type and level of pain will cause them to take action? Is it the workplace pressure to fulfill the task at hand that does not allow people to devote a minute of their time to the chair they sit on? Are people deterred by their fear of what they perceive as a challenging technical feat? Are they afraid that even if they do adjust their chair it will make no difference? Could it perhaps be that this lack of attention is only the outcome of a lack of awareness?

What is an ergonomic chair?

Before you purchase a chair touted to be ergonomic, it is worthwhile to map your real needs and make sure this is the right chair for you.

These are the parameters you should take into account:

a.         The size of the chair VS the size of the user (remember, ergonomic means adjusted for the user!);

b.         Chair height VS desk height. The right proportion should allow for a correct sitting posture that does not put a load on the shoulders.

c.         The number of people that will be using the chair. For multiple users, it is recommended to purchase a chair with a variety of adjusting options, in order to allow for optimal fitting to each user.

d.         The chair’s seat should be covered with a comfortable, non slip, absorbing fabric that prevents slipping or sweating. The chair should be equipped with an additional mechanism for adjusting the seat’s depth.

e.         The backrest must have a mechanism that allows for adjusting it at different angles (nowadays, the recommended angle between the seat and back rest is 110 degrees).
In addition, it’s recommended to make sure that the chair backrest’s height can also be adjusted, to allow for maximum support of the lower back at the concave depression (back lordosis).

f.          The armrests must be adjustable for height, width, sliding back and forth as well as shifting inside. If your desk is ergonomic, you do not use the armrests but place your forearms on the desk (the armrests are just that – there to be used mainly when you’re resting).

g.         The chair’s height – should be adjusted both to the user’s height and to the desk, so you will feel that when you’re placing your forearms on the ergonomic desk, your shoulders and neck can be relaxed.
Therefore, it is important to choose a chair that includes a simple mechanism allowing for easy lifting and lowering of the chair.

h.         Synchronizing mechanism – keeps the sitting posture optimal while changing the load on the back vertebrae.

i.          Rocking mode – keeps the back in motion and alleviates the pressure exerted on the vertebrae by prolonged sitting. It is recommended to occasionally take a break at work and give the back some rest through a rocking movement.

categoriaergonomics sitting commento5 Comments dataDecember 21st, 2009
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Ergonomics – A Child’s play?

By gildalit

ergonomics for children

kids ergonomics

More and more studies reveal an increase in the number of children and teenagers suffering from a stiff neck as well as shoulder, wrist and lower back pains.

Kids today spend long hours in front of computers. If they’re not typing school homework, they are playing, reading, surfing or chatting with other kids sitting somewhere in front of another computer (sometimes in the same house or even in the same room!). Our world is swamped by computer culture, and our children swim in it quite comfortably.

We as parents, encourage them to develop their computer literacy and skills, being extremely aware of the world’s current state of affairs, which makes it imperative for its young citizens to master and be comfortable in computerized environments. But we have another basic and unavoidable duty towards our children: their health.

Long computer sessions entail physical and mental health risks, which can be easily avoided using ergonomics.

Working with a computer can cause a phenomenon called RSI – Repetitive Strain Injuries.

Those start as a slight inconvenience but can later develop into a chronic problem.

Here are some data, according to studies published lately on ergonomics for children:  If you’re a parent, you should read this!

  1. Children aged 6-17 spend an average of 10 hours a day (!!!) sitting in front of a television or computer screen, sitting at school or engaged in other sedentary activities.
  2. Orthopedics report an increase in skeletal muscle complaints among school children as a result of prolonged sitting sessions in front of computer stations that are not adjusted to their specific needs.
  3. Kids today might suffer from neck pains resulting from incorrect height and distance of screens positioning.
  4. Damage to tendons and ligaments as a result of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injuries), is increasing constantly due to the usage of unsuitable mice and keyboards.
  5. Back pain, scoliosis and problems with the blood flow to the legs have become more and more common among children, as a result of inadequate sitting postures and usage of chairs unadjusted to their size.
  6. Children and parents alike are largely unaware of the dangers inherent in computerized environments!

In the modern technological world of today, more and more children must and do choose a working in front of a computer. These computerized environments will accompany our children throughout their lifetime, and it doesn’t seem they are going to disappear any time soon. On the contrary, computer culture is growing and developing fast, conquering more and more areas of our lives. Therefore, we as parents must make sure that our children learn and be computer literate. But simultaneously, we must also give them the ergonomic guidance and tools that will improve their quality of life, health and welfare.
Despite data showing a direct relation between orthopedic injuries and computer usage among children, very little attention is devoted to maintaining ergonomic principles at the computer work station at home.

Parents, this is your responsibility!

categoriaergonomics for childrens commento6 Comments dataDecember 21st, 2009
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Laptops and Notebooks and bears, oh my! The laptop – a Real Health Hazard

By gildalit

ergonomic laptop

ergonomic & laptop

Studies show that prolonged use of a laptop can cause serious orthopedic problems at the shoulders and neck, pain and inflammation of the wrists and back, as well as increasing the risk of testicular cancer and fertility problems (when the computer is placed on the knees – a very common habit).

But wait! Before you dump your laptop into the trash, here are some Do’s and Don’t rules that will enable you to use your laptop and remain healthy.

Updated global data show that about a third of all computer users have a laptop. Laptops may look friendly and inviting, but in fact they have become a first-rate ergonomic hazard. Dalit Ben-Tovim, an ergonomic consultant and trainer, who specializes in creating and adapting working environments for better health and safety, offers a variety of tips for using your laptop safely.

Why is the laptop so damaging?

Structure – The laptop’s structure does not allow for a separate adjustment of the keyboard and screen. As a result, if the screen is adjusted to the desired height – and the recommendation is for the upper limit of the screen to be at eye level – we will find ourselves with the keyboard at a position that is destructive for the hands and wrists. On the other hand, placing the laptop for convenient typing will create strain and damage the eyes and the neck muscles.

Mouse – the integrated mouse or touchpad is another ergonomic nightmare we should be aware of. The posture required when working with a touchpad creates a constant, incremental tension on the hand tendons and in the shoulder, with devastating results.

Posture – prolonged usage of a laptop, coupled with an incorrect sitting posture, with no support of complementary ergonomic accessories, could lead to serious orthopedic problems in the neck and shoulder belt, pain and inflammation of the wrists and back aches. In addition to all the problems mentioned, the infamous warming of the laptops has already been proven to increase the risk of testicular cancer and fertility problems.

Not all is negative. It is possible and even recommended to use a laptop safely, if you adopt the correct habits that will prevent damages.

Tips for casual/infrequent users:
Those who do not use a laptop as a main working tool, but occasionally find themselves using a laptop, would do well to adopt a few rules:

  • Try to find a comfortable chair, one that enables you to lean back comfortably. Remember that the head and the neck are supported by large muscles. You need to protect the hand muscles, which are more sensitive. Place the laptop on your legs, with the hands in a relaxed posture, neither bent nor stretched.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Tilt and adjust the screen to allow for a minimal neck tilt.
  • Use a laptop ventilation tray to prevent heating.
  • Carry as few additional peripherals as possible, keeping the laptop’s weight minimal.
  • Use a backpack with wide shoulder straps to carry the laptop.

Tips for heavy users:

  • Place your laptop on the table so that its upper edge is at your eye level. There are several laptop stands designed specifically for this purpose, try to add a forearm support board.
  • Use an external keyboard and position it directly in front of you, at a convenient height allowing your hands to rest at a neutral posture – neither bent nor stretched.
  • Connect an external mouse and place it at your side at a height that keeps your hand relaxed and at a neutral posture.
  • The keyboard and the mouse can be connected directly to the laptop or through a docking station.
  • Place the screen at a straight arm length away from you. Nevertheless, you should take into consideration the screen size, in order to allow for effortless reading.
  • Minimize any sources of reflected screen glare.

Tips for all users

Besides the mobility and convenience, using laptops carries many health hazards which users are not aware of. We have divided our recommendations into different types of users, but our most important recommendation is: Listen to your body! Pain is a sure sign that you should stop your work to stretch, change your posture, relax and rest your eyes and hands.

Integrate physical activity in your life. An hour of aerobic exercise once a day will work wonders for your painful back and stiff neck.

Can an investment in ergonomics save money for the organization/ prove to be cost effective?

By gildalit

ergonomic accessories

Gil Ben Tovim ergonomic consultant

Many organizations hesitate to embark into what they see as the stormy waters of ergonomics, fearing that they will face purchasing costly ergonomic accessories, or that employees will start demanding special chairs, keyboards, mice, desks and so on.

Is their fear justified? By all means no!

As an ergonomic consultant to numerous organizations, I am often called to examine and give advice for existing workstations, only to find faulty ergonomic planning. Surprisingly, it is the actually at work stations boasting special design and laden with expensive accessories where we find problems.

For example: an expensive executive chair that does not fit its user, or is badly proportioned to the desk, or a desk that doesn’t allow for resting your legs comfortably, or a desk that is too large for the room’s dimensions or a large size ergonomic keyboard that does no fit the user.

My job as an ergonomic consultant is to provide the functional solution, meaning that as far as I’m concerned, a wide desk with appropriate leg room will provide a better solution than an expensive, designer table that does not allow for a comfortable sitting posture. Likewise, a chair that fits both the desk and the user’s body proportions will be a much better solution than a fancy, expensive executive chair that is out of proportion with the user’s body or the desk.

Equipment that is suitable and adjusted to the employee will certainly prevent discomfort or bodily injuries in the future.

In many companies that use my ergonomic consulting services we actually witnessed a decrease in demands for a chair replacement, because when you provide the employee with the proper guidance on how to adjust his or her chair and organize the workstation in a proper ergonomic way, work comfort and usage experience are enhanced.

True, sometimes there’s a need to replace some of the equipment, but at least the new equipment is directed to where it’s really needed, the acquisition is budgeted and prioritized and is nor a half baked random purchase that  eventually might be discovered to be unnecessary.

In many companies I have come across foot rests thrown in the room, unused keyboard gel pads, superfluous monitor stands, etc.

As you see, solid ergonomic advice not only saves you money and renders good ROI in the long term! It can reimburse the expense almost immediately.

categoriaergonomics commentoNo Comments dataDecember 21st, 2009
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Are employers thinking on the employee’s best interest?

By gildalit

ergonomics

ergonomic consultation

When have you last heard of employees going on a strike or mobilizing workers unions solely to protest against the ergonomic conditions of their employment?

That’s a pretty rare situation, to say the least.

Well. If there are no strikes and no sanctions, does it follow that the ergonomic working conditions are all excellent? I don’t think so.

We’ve have all seen some horrific working environments, with narrow and wobbly desks, old and broken chairs, bad lighting, crowded spaces etc.

And just to be clear, those are modern urban offices I am talking about, not sweatshops or third worlds factories in remote locations.

I’m sure we’ve all heard by now of employees, who spend most of their working hours in front of a computer, complaining about discomfort, wrist pains and disk hernias.

This is a well known, quite widespread phenomenon, and yet employers are not rushing to search for the aid of the nearest ergonomic consultant. When offering my services to employers, I’m often confronted with the reaction: No thanks, we’re very concerned and proactive regarding our workers health and comfort, see? We’ve just purchased gel pads for their keyboards and mice.

Does this reaction teach us anything? Yes.  Clearly, it shows that employers tend to ease their consciences or mollify their employees’ complaints with a simple ergonomic toy. Does this toy solve the employee’s problem? Probably not, but it does buy the employer some additional quiet time.

Would having the employees listen to a lecture on ergonomics once every couple of years help them? Perhaps it would help them a bit, but it would sure help the employer much more.

Good ergonomic consulting starts with a functional ergonomic mapping of the organization, getting an exact understanding of employee’s needs followed by personal planning and guidance for each employee at his personal workstation, including fitting the proper ergonomic equipment.

Are there any employers who have embraced this concept? Yes, of course, but they are still a minority. Most employers are still in the stage of putting out fires, only trying to solve specific personal problems when an employee complains loudly enough.

When employers do invest seriously in ergonomics, is it because the employee’s interest is of paramount importance for them?

Every business’s primary goal is to make profits. Organizations that realize how ergonomics assistance would greatly improve their employees’ performance, actually understand that in the long run, they gain happy, contributing employees with better performance levels, who take fewer sick leave days.

Correct ergonomic thought should take into consideration that an investment in ergonomics will not only repay itself but bring the company monetary gain as well.

Don’t think of ergonomics as being a manner of coddling the employee, or being just a part of HR welfare. Think of it as a method that enables the employer to increase company’s profit.

When employers will understand that there’s money to be made, they will invest in ergonomics. That’s a no brainer.

categoriaROI on ergonomic planes commento3 Comments dataDecember 21st, 2009
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Promoting Ergonomics in the Work Place – What are the Obstacles and Can it be Done?

By gildalit

ergonomics sitting

non ergonomic sitting

As an independent ergonomic counselor offering my services to high tech companies, I often wonder – who would be the right person to meet at the organization in order to create a serious and effective ergonomic program?

My experience tells me that in each organization, the correct answer will be different.

The crucial person or function to approach could be located at: Human Resources, Staff Welfare, Operations or Acquisition management, R&D Department, or it could be any of the organization’s vice presidents: Safety, IT, Administration, or any departmental Manager.

One of the main obstacles in promoting ergonomics in organizations is that the employees themselves may lack ergonomic awareness. They do not put any pressure on the organization or ask emphatically enough for ergonomic consulting services. After all, not all employees are aware of the causal connection between working environment and bodily pains.

It’s not always easy to make the connection between work and pain. The discomfort and pains suffered by computer users usually develop gradually and do not force the users to stop working immediately. The discomfort turns into chronic pain that the employees learn to live with, suffering quietly and hoping for the best.

Even when employees are well aware of the situation, some of them might hesitate to complain of discomfort and pains they feel at their daily work out of fear of being fired, or being regarded by the organization as trouble makers.

Employers sometimes take advantage of this ignorance or fear, and do nothing to raise awareness. After all, why create problems where you have industrial peace? So they sort of “let sleeping dogs lay”. The situation is the worst in organizations where employees’ turnover is high and the employer has no incentive to improve working conditions.

But ending on a positive note – we see more and more organizations that are open minded towards ergonomics, being well aware of its importance. Those organizations do not hesitate to invest substantial amounts in order to create the right working environment.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, organizations are not promoting ergonomics solely for the employee’s interest. They understand that in the long run, investment in ergonomics has a very high ROI.

For one good example I can give the Israeli Low department that after a long period of consultation, trial period and ROI calculation bought for all its clerics an innovative forearm support board the ergocloud.

Choosing an ergonomic mouse

By gildalit

ergonomic mouse

ergonomic mouse

extention

ergonomics mouse

What turns a computer mouse into an “ergonomic” accessory?

What are the criteria for an ergonomic mouse?

When purchasing a new mouse, how can we be certain that the mouse touted to be ergonomic does indeed comply with ergonomic criteria?

Does any mice manufacturer have the right to attach the word “ergonomic” to their products?

And is an ergonomic mouse really better than a regular mouse? That is, would an ergonomic mouse helps in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome and inflammations of the wrist?

And last but not least, given the huge assortment of ergonomic mouse devices on the market, how do we know which would be the best and the most appropriate for us?

In order to solve some of these questions, we would first need to determine what exactly is an ergonomic mouse, and what functions are not included in the ergonomic definition.

You might be surprised to know, but the design process of any product involves certain ergonomic considerations.

That being so, basically any product can be called “ergonomic”.

Confused? So am I, but the answer is simple – ergonomic means “suited to the user”. That’s right – Suited to You. That’s the greatest secret of ergonomics.

For example: a small handed girl working with an ergonomic mouse significantly big for her hand or a large man working with a smallish ergonomic mouse will feel very uncomfortable, even though they’re using a mouse that supposedly is ergonomic. An accountant using an extremely narrow or cluttered desk, who chooses to use a large mouse that can hardly be moved on such a desk, will also feel discomfort.

The obvious conclusion is: the mouse should be chosen first and foremost according to body size, work needs and desk format.

Having chosen the ergonomic mouse that fits us we have to ask – would that mouse itself prevent wrist pain?

The answer depends on how we sit and the posture of our hand on the desk.

For example: if we sit too low in respect to our desk, we will not be able to place our hand correctly on the desk, and no ergonomic mouse can or will help us. Or if due to the table structure or the multitude of devices placed on the desk (laptop, telephone, folders… you name it) there is not enough free space to place our wrist, we will not be able to achieve the correct hand posture to benefit from the ergonomic mouse.

posture

ergonomic posture

So, we understood that we need to choose a mouse that is appropriate to our structure and needs, and have arranged our sitting position and desk to enable us to create the right arm and hand position. The question still remains: Should we buy a mouse defined as ergonomic or can we be satisfied with a simple mouse?

The answer is not that simple. Our best advice would be to try out several mouse devices for a period of time, to feel if there’s any change. I believe some of the ergonomic mouse devices sold today have a structure that definitely lessens the pressure on the hand. Those are worth trying first.

categoriaergonomics mouse commento11 Comments dataDecember 13th, 2009
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Standardization – an Ergonomic Working Environment at the Office

By gildalit

ergonomic desk 1ergonomic desk

One of the first things I have noticed as an ergonomic advisor was the lack of uniformity and total absence of any standardization of the working environments at offices and working places.

This is mainly evident when you look at the equipment being used – a haphazard mix of old and new appliances, furniture items and ergonomic equipment. In many offices you can find a medley of different desks and chairs even in a single working space.

How would such a situation be created? There are a ton of different reasons.

For example, many working places might replace malfunctioning or broken equipment, but anything that is still functional gets left as it was.

Another reason could be replacing a specific item or equipment, only for those employees who used some sort of leverage to get their equipment renewed. And sometimes, it’s all about ranks – new and improved equipment is bought for the higher rank workers of the organization, but not for the lower ranks.

Additional reasons might be different decisions reached by different purchasing officers, a decision made by the operational vice president, a change in the budget allocated to acquisition, etc.

What is more clear is that this lack of uniformity can and does create an array of problems:

  1. Those workers left to work with outdated equipment suffer discomfort and pains;
  2. Each working station requires different ergonomic accessories  (which ofcourse entails a higher monetary expenditure);
  3. It is impossible to offer a uniform ergonomic guidance to all workers;
  4. Planning the arrangement of different work stations in one working space is complex and unecessarily problematic;
  5. It is a situation which could create resentment among workers and lead to demands for ergonomic equipment;
  6. And of course this is a situation which could damage the organization’s public image.

Using solid ergonomic advise and planning when getting ready to purchase ergonomic equipment in the early stages of building work stations is a critical step. Good ergonomic advice will allow the organization to create a healthy, ergonomic and uniform work environment.

categoriaergonomics setting commento3 Comments dataDecember 9th, 2009
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Are people around the world familiar with the term “ergonomics”

By gildalit

ergonomics pain

ergonomics pain

In Israel, most people are not really familiar with the term “ergonomics”. Many even tend to confuse “ergonomia” (that’s how we call ergonomics in Hebrew) with “agronomia” (agronomy – i.e. the science of agriculture).

As an ergonomic advisor, I am frequently at a loss when I have to present ergonomics during face to face meetings or when planning for an advertisement. What would be the best way? Should I explain that ergonomics is “human engineering”, should I talk about the human-machine interface, or about the creation and maintenance of a healthy work environment or should I perhaps explain that it is the study of how pain is caused by faulty work habits?

Almost anyone spending their working hours in front of a computer suffers at some point or another from discomfort and pain. Therefore, believing it would be a fantastic ad, an excellent marketing writing piece that will certainly send clients rushing straight to their phone to get in touch with me, I recently posted an email advertisement titled “Ergonomics – computer pains”.

Well, I did get a lot of calls…. but most of the callers contacted me because their computer was faulty, and not as a result of the pains they themselves were suffering…

This short episode is a very good example of the current state of affairs in Israel – the computer is more important than the human body. Computer users have yet to grasp the causal connection existing between a non-ergonomic working environment and physical pain or incapacitation.

As an ergonomics advisor living and working in Israel, I hear about colleagues abroad and understand their situation seems to be much better. In other countries, I’m told, people know what the term ergonomics means and large companies and organizations show more awareness to ergonomics in general.

I do not know whether those stories are true or exaggerated, but I would welcome inputs from others around the world.

So do tell me, how are things at your end of the pond?

categoriaergonomics commentoNo Comments dataDecember 1st, 2009
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