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Managing Health in this Computer Age

What is office ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the study of the way the body interacts with the environment within which a person performs a task. It is also known as human engineering or human factors (Kroemer, 2001, p.1). It involves the arrangement of a workplace environment. The environment includes the equipment used in an office, for example, computers, telephones, fax machines, paper shredders, and so on, the lighting, and how one does a task that fits the activity they are doing. Thus, office ergonomics concerns itself with the arrangement of the work environment to meet the needs of an individual as they do their job. Ergonomics is neutral and concerns both the employees and employers (Kroemer, 2001, p.1).

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In the office, the work system depends entirely on human beings. In their absence, no work can be done. Thus, ergonomics focuses on human beings as they are the central component of any office. It adapts the office to the needs of the workers. For this to be possible it is important that the ergonomic designers know the characteristics of the individuals in the office in terms of their dimensions, preferences, and capabilities (Kroemer, 2001, p.1).

Many years ago people worked in offices and 1713 Ramazzani affirmed that the workers who sat still looking down at their work ended up becoming round-shouldered and often suffered from lameness, numbness in their feet and legs, and sciatica. He concluded that all sedentary workers suffer from back pain. Therefore, it is important to move around and exercise to reduce the effects of long sitting (Kroemer, 2001, p.2).

It is important to have workstations that are set up well to minimize health problems such as eye strains, back pains, neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome that is caused by repetitive activity (Office Ergonomics, 2007, para.2).

A workstation affects the productivity of an individual. When it is not set properly the productivity is reduced and vice versa.

Office ergonomics is very important in the work place today. This is because most of the people spend most of their working time seated in their work stations. More than half of all adults in the US use computers in the workplace and two thirds of school children, as shown by the United States census bureau (Albin, 2002, para. 1; Kroemer, p.2). Hence, injuries and illnesses are not uncommon and they are very costly to an individual as well as to the employer. They reduce ones quality of life and the ability to be productive. In this computer age most of the people spend many hours in front of these gadgets. A study was conducted and in all the employees studied over half of them who sat in front of a computer for more than fifteen hours a week complained of musculoskeletal problems during their fist year at work (Schneider, 2001; Kroemer, 2001, p.2).

Most of the health problems at work places for those who use electronics and those who do not are caused by falls, awkward postures, lifting heavy objects, reaching, bending, noise, stressful environment and so on (Kroemer, 2001, p.3). Office ergonomics comes in to help one reduce work related injuries by ensuring that one is comfortable in the work place. This helps to reduce stress, awkward positions as well as repetitive tasks. Office ergonomics focuses on the arrangement of equipment like the computer monitor, keyboard and mouse, chair, telephone and so on.

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Work place assessment

A work place assessment is very important. It helps to assess the perceptions that both managers and employees have about the work environment. It helps to address issues concerning the work place proactively. This helps to keep things under control because they do not get out of hand. Doing an assessment in a work place may help to determine things that are working effectively and those that are not in an organization (Workplace Assessment n.d).

Benefits of workplace assessment

A work place assessment has benefits to the organization. It assists employees in all levels of an organization know what is going on. They are made aware of any issues that may be creating problems and have an opportunity to correct them. On the other hand the organization becomes aware of the issues that may create a conflict or lead to dissatisfaction in the work place. Some of the issues that may create dissatisfaction in a work place may be lack of proper equipment, work space, and so on. In addition, the assessment identifies things that are well and an organization is able capitalize on the strengths. It can provide means of promoting the desired behaviors of its work force (Workplace Assessment n.d).

Employees feel as part and parcel of an organization because they are listened to and allowed to give their input on how to address issues of concern within the organization. The method is also cost effective as feedback is achieved by conducting a quick review of the operations in an organization. The information is also timely and relevant. It helps the mangers to making decisions as they have insights. Through the meaningful discussions that are inclusive the morale of the employees is lifted as well as their commitment as they discuss ways of addressing tough issues about the organization (Workplace Assessment n.d).

Computer ergonomics

Computer ergonomics is a discipline that concerns itself with the potential and actual injuries that occur when a person uses a computer for long periods of time. Human beings have to adjust to be able to use the new ‘tool’ properly. A person spends most of their day clicking the mouse button, focusing on the screen and hands around the mouse. These activities are repetitive and this can cause injuries to office workers. Thus computer ergonomics looks at all the aspects concerning computer use. When computer ergonomics assessments are done one may be recommended to raise or lower the monitor to fit ones position, change a keyboard, mouse or change the position of the worker to reduce glare. Computer ergonomics is combined with office ergonomics to reduce discomfort and improve productivity (Computer Ergonomics, 2006, para. 1).

More and more people spend most of the time at their computer work station. This means that it is very important to design the arrangement of the equipment because its arrangement impacts comfort productivity and health (Computer Workstation Ergonomics, 2000, p.1).

People do not come in similar sizes and body proportions. They are different and each individual has his or her own preferences and dislikes. Each human being is unique and behaves differently and should be treated as such in the work place. For example buying similar office chairs for all the workers in an office may not be wise as their sizes are different (Kroemer, 2001, p. 3). In 1999 Liberty Mutual Insurance Company stated after the results of a test on the theory of ergonomics that when employees are given control of the environment in which they work, together with the understanding of ergonomics their performance would likely improve and the health related problems lessen (Kroemer, 2001, p. 10).

Ergonomic Assessment

There are a number of things that should be considered in a computer workstation: work area, lighting, desk, chair, monitor, keyboard, mouse, device, work habits. Every work place needs to be assessed regularly to ensure that it is conducive for workers. The assessment involves the employee, the employer and the risks that may arise in a workplace that may put the health of individuals at a health risk. Today most works places are required to comply with the law and ensure that the working places are safe. Doing an ergonomic assessment is good for any business. Many businesses have opted to incorporate ergonomics in their business due to its positive impact.

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Computer work station

The lighting should be proper. Improper lighting is a major factor that leads to visual discomforts (Computer Ergonomics, para.4). One should select the right kind of lighting to enhance the ability to see the monitor well. The lighting should not be excess such that it causes glare as this may lead to headaches due to eye strain. This may cause one to work in an awkward position when trying to avoid the glare and this may lead to back pains. The monitor should be placed to the source of light and not beneath. The illumination can be removed by switching off the overhead lights. To reduce eye strain one may apply the following recommendations: closing drapes or blinds as this reduces glare, adjusting the lighting to eliminate any glare on the screen. The source of light should be about 90 degrees and use low watt lighting, one should ensure that the working area has even lighting which should not be too intense, the monitor should be placed at a 90 degree angle if possible, overhead lighting should be reduced, use shielded lighting, paint the walls with a non reflective finish, a glare screen can be used to minimize glare. The ventilation in a workstation is also very important as it affects ones productivity depending on whether one is comfortable or not (Work Station Environment, 2008, para. 1).

Adequate space is needed in the work area. The space should accommodate a person and allow one to move around to perform their tasks. The office equipment should also have adequate space. The items that are used frequently should be placed within reach and care should be taken to avoid overcrowding the work place. It is also important to cater for the needs of different people in a workstation. Some are tall while others are short therefore they have different needs for the right furniture. This means that the furniture may need to be adjusted to fit a person. For example a tall person may require a raised work surface; a shorter person may need accessories to make the work surface comfortable. In a work station with different sizes of people requires adjustable furniture (Computer Workstation Ergonomics, 2000, p.1).

The work station should be organized properly so that the items that are frequently used are placed at a position where they can be reached easily without the need for excessive reaching as this may cause injuries. Clutter should be removed under the work surface to give room for the feet and to allow stretching. The work stations with fixed height desks should have a keyboard tray that is vertically adjustable. A footrest comes in handy when the height of a chair is lifted because the feet should rest flat. Headsets or speaker phones are used if one speaks on the phone for long periods to avoid discomforts on the shoulder and the neck. The phone should be placed on the side of the non dominant for instance left handed person should place the phone on the right and a right handed person should place it on the left. When typing documents, the document holder should be placed in a proper position. The monitor should also be placed at the eye level to avoid frequent movements of the neck as this leads to aches.

Sitting and posture

People spend a lot of time sitting in their work places. Most people believe that sitting is relaxing but this is not always the case as it puts a lot of pressure on the back. When one sits for long periods of time the intervertebral discs are put under increased pressure. It also puts pressure on the legs and the feet (Computer ergonomics, 2000). The force of gravity normally pulls the blood in the feet and legs and this leads to a sluggish return to the heart. Thus a person should ensure that they sit comfortably in their work stations.

One should not sit in one position for long periods of time. It is good stand to change the position to reduce pressure on the vertebrate disc. This can be done by moving the feet, adjusting the hips, lifting the arms and altering the posture subtly continuously (Adams, 2006, p. 6). When performing ones task it is prudent to alternate the position that is standing and sitting as well as taking small breaks in between the tasks for small walks throughout the day. The chair one uses must be comfortable and should have a lumbar support. The chair should also be adjustable so that one can choose the right height. The height of the backrest is supposed to give support to the natural inward curve of the lower back (Computer Ergonomic, 2000). A cushion may be used to support the lower back. The angle between the upper leg and the trunk should be about 90 to 115 degrees.

The height of the chair should allow one to rest their feet flat. The armrests should be wide enough to allow one to rest their arms and relax the shoulder while using the keyboard. In addition the armrests should not be used to slouch. They should not elevate the shoulders or force one to move their arms away from their body so as to use the arms. The elbows and the lower arms are supposed to rest on the armrests lightly to reduce causing nerve problems (computer 2000). The wrists should be kept straight (Adams, 2006, p.6; Hue-Fah, 2005, p.1).

A footrest should be used if one cannot keep their feet flat on the ground after adjusting the height of the chair. There should be some space between the thighs and the underside of the work surface. Moreover, there should be adequate space underneath the work surface such that a person can pull themselves up to the edge of their desk and still have room for the legs and knees (Computer Ergonomic, 2000). The diagram below shows the right sitting position.

diagram shows the right sitting position
Source: Office Yoga Oasis

The monitor should be about an arms length form the user. It is placed on a firm surface and the top of the screen should be at the level of the eye or just below it when seated in an upright position. To make the workstation more comfortable one should ensure that the screen is clean. Brightness and contrast should be adjusted to the optimum comfort and the monitor should be place directly in front of the individual to keep away from neck twisting. The monitor should be kept away from direct lighting to minimize glare; it should also be titled in a way that it does not reflect the ceiling lights. More importantly is advisable to visit an optician regularly for eye check up (Computer Workstation Ergonomics, 2009, para.4).

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Before buying office furniture it is good to consult the individuals performing the different tasks. The person in charge of buying the furniture should understand the tasks in the office. He or she should also understand what those tasks require to be fulfilled efficiently, comfortably, accurately and safely (McKeown, 2007, p.33).

Task analysis is also very important. It involves the formal method of describing as well as analyzing the performance demands of an individual in a working environment (McKeown, 2007, p.34). Task analysis is different from a job analysis which gives a general breakdown of activities that an individual performs. In task analysis the activities are broken down in what is known as task description. It is done by observing skilled individuals over long periods performing the activities. Through task analysis information is gathered about: one task requirements for example keyboarding, using mouse, using a pen, answering the phone and so on; two task environment for example keyboarding on a desk surface; three, task behavior which concerns how an individual works fro instance stretching to reach the phone, mouse and so on. Furthermore, task analysis gives an insight about how much time is spent on each activity. This is important in determining the kind of equipment and furniture is best suited for the task by identifying the inefficiencies in the work environment (McKeown, 2007, p.35).

Things to consider before setting up a computer work station

A good ergonomic computer station is necessary to protect ones health. There are some basic guidelines about setting up. The first thing that one should consider is who will use the computer. If the computer is to be used by one individual only there is no need to go for adjustable chair. However, if many people are to use it an adjustable chair is very important so that it can cater for the needs of the users. The amount of time spent in front of the computer should be considered. For very short periods, for example a few minutes every week or day the ergonomics might not be of main concern. For a period of more than one hour a day ergonomic arrangement should be made (Hedge, 2009, p. 1).

Second, the kind of computer to be used determines the workstation arrangement. Most of the guidelines are for a desktop system. On the other hand we have laptop computers whose guidelines are very difficult to implement due to their design. This makes these kinds of computers unsuitable for usage over long durations. Luckily, this challenge can be overcome by buying an external monitor, keyboard and a docking station (Hedge, 2009, p. 1).

Third, the kind of furniture to be used, the computer should be place on firm surfaces. There should be adequate space to accommodate the entire computer accessories necessary. The work surface should be adjustable as well as the computer system; to enable the user sit in a comfortable position. Forth the type of chair to be used; It should have a lumbar support for the back. It should be adjustable if used by many people. Fifth, the kind of work will determine the highly used software, for instance word processing the keyboard and mouse should be positioned well, data entry arrange the numeric keypad properly and so on (Hedge, 2009, p. 1).

Computers and stress

Computers are very important in today’s world. People not only use them at work place but at home. The computer makes work easier and it is truly a wonder of technology. Nevertheless, computers can be causes of stress. The stress they cause is similar to every day stress. Ergonomics is used to try and reduce the physical and the psychological stress caused by computers (Dainoff, 2007, p.135). It is important to understand the causes of computer stress so that one is able to cope. Failure to anticipate problems may lead to stress. When people fail to anticipate they do not take precautionary steps like saving their work in secondary storages. They become stressed when they lose all the data they had stored in their computer when it crushes. You can imagine the kind of stress a student would go through if they lost their project a few hours before submission deadline. Regular back up reduces the stress cause by events (Orman, 2007, p.1).

Cheap is expensive. Some people go for cheap software to save money (Scott, 2007, p.1). The risks of such programs are enormous and done can easily lose their data. In addition some people try to a system on their own and due to lack of expertise they do not succeed and are frustrated. Other people become stressed because they do not ask for help. They are either too shy or proud to admit there are some things they cannot do on their own (Orman, 2007, p.1).

Sometimes the computers are slow. This could be due to too much traffic and therefore to open a file or a web page may take longer than usual. This stress people because people want things done fast. Others will become frustrated by computers because they expect them to be perfect at all times. However, you and I know nothing is perfect and computers do fail at times. In light of some of the causes of computer stress, human beings should cope with it as soon as possible. From the medical world we know the effect of prolonged stress is diseases. Every computer user should devise their own way of coping with stress to avoid preventable diseases.

A healthy human being is happy and productive. The health of a human being should be taken care of using any means possible. In this computer age everyone from the young to the elderly use them. They cause a lot of health problems which may be fatal eventually. Most of the problems can be avoided by observing ergonomic principles closely. This will not only make us more productive, but reduce potential injuries because our bodies are our greatest assets. Hence, the body should be treated right by being given the right nutrition and regular exercise. The right body posture should be observed at all times.

Reference list

Adams, C. (2007). Guide to Setting up an Ergonomic Computer Station.

Albin, T 2002. Revised ANSI/HFES Computer Workstation Ergonomics Standard Nearly. Web.

Computer Ergonomics 2006). Web.

Computer Workstation Ergonomics. (2000). Web.

Dainoff, M.J. (2007). Ergonomics and health aspects of work with computers: International conference, EHAWC 2007, held as part of HCI International 2007, Beijing, China: proceedings Volume 4566 of Lecture notes in computer science, New York, Springer.

Daniels. C. (2000). Computer Ergonomics. Web.

Hedge, A. (2009). Ergonomic Guidelines for arranging a Computer Workstation.

Hue-Fah, K. (2005). Taking Care of Your Back While at the Workstation. Web.

Kreomer, K.H.E. (2001). Office ergonomics, CRC Press

McKeown, C. (2007). Office Ergonomics: Practical Applications CRC Press  Office ergonomics (2007). Web.

Orman, M.C (2007). Common Causes of Computer Stress.

Scott, e. (2007). Handling Computer Stress and Frustration.

Workplace Assessments. Web.

Work Station Environment, (2008).

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