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Ergonomically correct: from a health-care perspective, ergonomics is a bottom-line issue for businesses of all sizes.

First, let's talk terms. What is meant by workplace ergonomics and office ergonomics?

Workplace ergonomics is a science that can help you, as an employer, prevent musculoskeletal disorder hazards by properly designing the job or workstation and selecting the appropriate tools or equipment for that job to create an ergonomically friendly office. Bottom line: This can cut down or prevent such costly injuries as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, tennis elbow and thoracic outlet syndrome, among others.

Office ergonomics is a subcategory of workplace ergonomics. In general, it means alleviating the problems associated with using computers. This includes adjusting and controlling the physical environment, desk and chair design, computer screen and keyboard placement, the computer mouse and office lighting. With 28 million Americans using computers each day in the workplace, it's a growth industry.

These are important considerations. The way a desk or computer workstation is set up can actually have a negative affect on a person's well-being, says Doug Sawyer, an account executive with Workplace Integrators in Bingham Farms. He recommends developing desks that incorporate a curved rather than an L-shaped station. This will help reduce the number of times a person must turn his or her body to reach around their workstation.

"What you ideally want is a desk area shaped liked a cockpit where everything is within reach," he recommends.

Doesn't all this get rather expensive, especially for smaller businesses with limited budgets? It's an issue, agrees Sawyer, but not as much as it used to be, noting that the cost of molded form chairs and desktop accessories have come down significantly in recent years.

Friendly designs

E. Patrick Mitchell, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital, a Detroit Medical Center facility in Commerce Township, says the types of injuries most common to white-collar workers include back and hand problems.

"The market is providing more products that will help curb these injuries than ever before," says Mitchell. "What people should remember is that back and hand injuries can linger so employers should consider preventing these injuries whenever possible."

At the same time, employers should ditch the "one-size-fits-all" notion when it comes to office ergonomics because nobody shares exactly the same body mechanics. "Some of the ergonomic chairs you see out there

are shaped in a very unique way," Mitchell notes. "But no matter how they look they are all shaped to meet someone's needs."

Every type of computer-related accessory now comes in ergonomically friendly designs. This includes a special mouse with elevated buttons, enabling the user's hand to remain open with the fingers extended in a ready position. Gel mouse pads and keyboard pads can relieve stress on wrists, which can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

Keyboards are now designed for people of all sizes. Some keyboards, designed specifically for youngsters but adaptable for adults, have keys that are smaller and positioned closer together for people with smaller hands.

Ergonomic chairs can help prevent back disorders and, in fact, may be the single most important ergonomic office accessory. Medical experts agree that poor chair designs that do not fit an individual's back are one of the most significant causes of musculoskeletal stresses and strains.

"The idea that we all sit in the same position all day is a misnomer," says Sawyer of Workplace Integrators. "In the morning you may be sitting up straight while later in the day you may slouch down." His company sells the Leap[TM] chair, manufactured by Steelcase Inc., which conforms to your body regardless of the position you're in.

Workplace of the future

So what's new in the ergonomics field? Greater flexibility is one trend, says Billie Jo Wanink, CEO of iscg, a work place furnishings firm in Royal Oak. In the next few years, she says, businesses may find more ways to move their employee workstations around easily since many workstations are being tailored toward individual health needs.

Wanink also sees construction firms and contractors beginning to pay closer attention to ergonomics at the start of a building project. "I think you'll see the way cabling is handled will change. You will also have more flexible flooring and a flexible, movable workstation. It may not even be called a workstation anymore."

Ergonomics is a bottom-line health issue, and the long-term potential cost savings cannot be overstressed.

"More and more companies are becoming aware that these repetitive injuries occur in all parts of the body," says Wanink. "In lieu of the heightened cost of health care and worker's compensation claims, that is a significant amount of money we are talking about."

And money is something a business of any size can't afford to lose.
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Title Annotation:Health Care
Author:Scott, Mike
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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