In January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Ergonomics Standard took effect to help stem the growing number of cases of musculoskeletal injuries among the nation’s work force.
OSHA will start to enforce the standard in October, assuming the new presidential administration and Congress don’t make any changes.
While workers’ groups and labor unions applaud the new regulation, some major corporations and political groups representing business owners find the standard ambiguous and unnecessary.
The nation’s 460,000 yearly musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome cost businesses $9.1 billion each year. The fact is, most of the injuries could be easily prevented, says Dave Pfeil, president of Ergonomically Correct LLC in Middleburg Heights and an ergonomics expert who helps business owners design programs to prevent musculoskeletal injuries in office employees.
“When people begin to better understand their body, then they understand why they should put together an ergonomics program,” Pfeil says.
He outlines several common musculoskeletal injuries that often plague office workers, and what you can do to avoid them.
Head and neck
Most of us who sit at a desk in front of a computer all day lean forward too far or slouch, causing our head to move out of its proper position over the shoulders. The average human head weighs 12 to 13 pounds, so if it’s not correctly positioned, it can put a strain on muscles and tendons in the neck and back.
“If I were to give you a 13-pound bowling ball and ask you to hold it in front of your body, you would get tired very quickly, wouldn’t you?” Pfeil says. “Leaning forward is going to cause problems.”
Most of us don’t gaze softly at our monitor screens. We stare, concentrating on the words, numbers or images on the screen.
During a one-on-one conversation, people blink an average of 22 times a minute. When staring at a computer screen, blinks drop to seven times a minute, leading to eyestrain and reduced energy.
Most desks, even in the computer age, are 29 inches high. Why? Well, it’s an unproven theory that during the ’50s, ergonomics tests were performed on U.S. Army solders to determine the ideal height of a writing desk. That turned out to be 29 inches.
The problem is, not everybody is built like a U.S. Army soldier, and many people must reach too high to type on their keyboards. If your keyboard legs are extended, you’re doing three times the damage to your carpal tunnel.
“You alter the workstation, you don’t alter the person,” Pfeil says. “The minute you try to alter the person, you take them out of their natural position, because your elbows should be down close to your side.”
Make sure the chair at your desk allows you to sit with your head over your shoulders and to have your elbows comfortably placed at your sides.
A sure sign that you’re not sitting properly is the need to stand up and walk around due to tightness or pain in your back. How to reach: Ergonomically Correct, (216) 676-6884; OSHA, (312) 353-2220
Morgan Lewis Jr. ([email protected]) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.