Workplace ergonomics

Can a harmless mouse and keyboard inflict painful injuries?
Recently I was a guest at a lecture given by an ergonomic specialist for some 200 Investment Bankers and their staff at their headquarters. The speaker listed the most common computer injuries such as upper and lower back-pain, neck and shoulder pain, or painful wrists, and then turned towards his audience and asked how many have experienced one or more of those complaints. About a quarter of the bankers lifted their hands. A young participant stood up and said to the ergonomic specialist: “If you want the true answer you should phrase your question in a different way”, she turned to her colleagues and asked: “Is there anyone in this room who did not suffer from one or more of those complaints?” No one raised a hand. Why did 75% of the bankers choose not to raise their hands if they all had experienced some form of computer injury?

Computer injuries are by definition to Repetitive Strain Injury – RSI. They are not accidents happening in split seconds, creating drama and drawing attention. They creep on us unaware and defenseless and when we become aware of a problem it often takes a long time to figure out the cause. Like bad habits, we tend to be ashamed of them: we feel it was so silly to have let such minor details like the distance of the mouse or keyboard from us develop into such major injuries through repetitiveness. Not knowing how to protect ourselves against RSI, or how to reverse a developing acute problem we postpone taking action until we have no other choice.

Computers and other gadgets are powerful instruments being operated for long hours by people who when reading the Users Guides will find nothing relating to the exposure to Repetitive Strain Injuries and to ways of avoiding those. Unlike medicines where counter-indications show up fast and often dramatically clearly indicating the cause, the slow and subversive nature of the RSI creates an absence of responsibility to the problem. The manufacturer sells the hardware and software and can not be held responsible for the use one makes of them. Employers often do not know of a problem and may not want to be bothered by such “trivial” problems like a distance between employees and their keyboards. External advisors are often asked not to put into their reports matters that may incur costs on the corporation and going to the gym is rarely regarded as a solution for a pain one has developed in the wrist. Physicians will treat the symptoms. They can not be expected to check every patient’s work-station, or trace a shoulder problem all the way back to the use of a certain device.

The nature of the RSI problem and the size of it suggest that the only viable way to address it is to provide computer users (and other gizmo users) with an integral software/content accompanying product of both an ergonomic and protective training nature which is part of the package the user receives when buying/operating the device. Ergonomic instructions should be there for users to consult with, exercises should be available to call upon as training for protection, as training for pain relief and for injury reversal.

One unique solution to this problem has been developed by Desk-Trainer Ltd., a small company from San Rafael, CA and Tel-Aviv. Desk-Trainer has identified the need for an urgent solution/service to fill the void and created a software/content solution it offers as a subscription service over the web and in a corporate version. Their web-site offers advice for office workplace ergonomics as well as desk exercises, office stretches to protect against Repetitive Strain Injuries and to relieve computer injuries. Desk-Trainer is also adapting the content for PDAs and cellular to assist people on the move.
Individuals and corporations looking for ways to reduce the risk of RSI and increase employee productivity, should consider taking a proactive approach to the problem and investigate solutions such as Desk-Trainer as a way to reduce lost productivity and medical claims.