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As a kid, I always loved “Back to School” preparations; shopping for new clothes, selecting the MEAD organizer that best reflected my view of the world (Charlie’s Angels Farrah era not Drew, or maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers) and of course, buying that new book bag (yes, we had book bags when I was a kid) to carry around my new stuff.  Times were simpler (cue the nostalgic music) and little if any thought was given to Ergonomics, Repetitive Strain Injuries and the like.   Naive?  Uninformed?  Perhaps.  

Times have changed.  Computers. Wireless. MP3s. Gaming. The list of technologies goes on and on.   You would think this shift to ‘virtual’ content results in kids carrying less to and from school.  Not the case.

Add up all the items you find in a backpack today, and you’ll easily find 25 to 40 lbs of weight.  The Congress of Chiropractic State Associations, or COCSA, recommends that you carry no more than 10 to 15% of your body weight in your backpack.  With kids, ERGOLAB recommends the 10% factor as your target.  Consider this, the average American sixth grader weighs in at approx 80 lbs (+/- 10%) – that means that a sixth grader should have NO MORE than 8 to 12 pounds.  Studies have shown our kids are lugging backpacks around that weigh well beyond this threshold.  This increases the likelihood of pain, discomfort and even injury in shoulders, backs, and necks. 

Given this reality, several client have asked us to recommend a back pack for their kids; with so many products on the market and EVERYONE claiming Ergonomic supremacy..it’s hard to know what to purchase.   Our ERGOLAB team recommends the AirPack® backpack by AirPack Systems.  http://www.airpacks.com/

At its core, AIRPACK is about proper weight distribution; typical body posture when carrying a heavy backpack involves slouching forward. You instinctively attempt to counterbalance the weight on your neck and upper back.  The patented AIRPACKS system of air-filled bladders in the shoulder straps and lumbar support shift the load to the right place – your lower back and hips.  An AirPack backpack improves the overall biomechanics of the spine, reducing the stress on the body by 80% and lightening the effective load by 50%. So the wearer actually FEELS BETTER.

Parents, the right backpack alone will not address this issue. 

Some additional tips:

  • Take time to ensure the backpack is properly fitted to your child. They’ll need some instruction. Check back often.
  • Monitor what your kids are carrying; the weight of school essentials already pushes the threshold. Make sure the only carry what is absolutely needed that day.
  • Get involved at your school. If your child is lugging around too much weight AFTER you have weeded out the non-essential items – talk to school officials.  The PTO is also a great place to surface this issue.
  • Get your kids MOVING!  Exercise increases muscle strength and tone; active kids build a stronger core and are less susceptible to injury. 

Any additional thoughts?  If you have any suggestions or a solution that has worked for your child – please share.

As always, we are available via phone or email – 401-527-7047 or cdavis@ergonomicedge.com

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There is an old carpenter’s axiom, ‘measure twice, cut once’.  The lesson? Careful, informed planning is essential to ensure a positive outcome.  Hurry to complete a project, and you do so at your peril. A lot of wasted wood cut just a skosh too short.  

Ideally, Ergonomics should play a central role in the design and build out of any building where people will work.  Understanding the needs and limitations of the human body at rest and in movement should inform the work of architects, designers and builders.   Have you ever worked in a business environment where the building structure, layout, space allocation for job tasks, movement & pass-through, while up to all current day building codes, seems to interfere or impede productivity?   The workspace allocated per employee in office environments is often driven by cost issues (cost per sq foot), rather than building an understanding of the tasks employees would be asked to perform….THEN DESIGN TO MEET THOSE NEEDS.   Or, perhaps the business, like most, have gone through significant expansion in their use of technology. New tools are forced into existing environments; this reality introduces risk factors into the workplace.  Or, the employer needs to support as many workstations in an area as possible, with little or no regard for human factors and ergonomic realities.  (think CALL CENTER – have you ever walked through a large call center – YIKES – an MSD factory). 

A growing part of our ERGOLAB practice is consulting within a hospital environment.  Nursing injuries are on the rise. OSHA accident and injury data has identified nursing as one of the most dangerous professions in the US.   Why?  THE PERFECT STORM OF FACTORS; 

  • HEAVY LIFTING – On average, a nurse  lifts 1.6 TONS of human body weight every shift.  Injuries from heavy lifting leave 50% or more working in chronic pain
    or at least 12% leaving the profession, many with permanent disabling injuries.  The rate of Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs in healthcare workers exceeds that of workers in construction, mining and manufacturing.
  • FATIGUE – Nurses walk 1/3 of every shift due to poorly designed floor layouts and inadequate storage at the point of care. A nurse walks more than 6  miles per shift.
  • TECHNOLOGY – New technologies have transformed healthcare; unfortunately, many of the nation’s hospitals were built before the invention of computers. Tools and technology is crammed into every nook and cranny on patient care floors.  Nurses spend HOURS at computer workstations that are poorly designed, forcing out of neutral body postures and increasing the risk of MSDs. 
  • EMPLOYEE SAFETY NOT A PRIORITY – Present day hospital culture is about PATIENT SAFETY concerns and conversations; employee safety is a distant second.   The typical hospital will have a Patient Safety Officer, with enterprise level responsibilities and resources. That same hospital will relegate Employee Safety responsibilities to any number of ‘owners’ at the middle management level. 
  • MORE WITH LESS – Financial challenges resulted in nursing layoffs – nurses are asked to do more…..much more….with less.  40 % of nurses today work in excess of 12 hours
    per shift. Longer hours, more shifts, less down time.  

Intelligent hospital design, leveraging human factor and ergonomics expertise would alleviate MANY of the factors listed above.  Lifting tools and technologies exist that could eliminate injuries due to heavy lifting.  Floor plan design must evolve to eliminate unnecessary walking that contributes to fatigue, then injury.  Technology can be better integrated at the point of care, with ergonomic solutions to minimize MSD risk.   Any design must have adaptable, changeable and flexible enough to meet accommodate changes in technology. 

The good news….a VERY real opportunity exists in the coming decade to address hospital design issues and create the care center of the future.  The healthcare industry is experiencing a construction boom: 

  • Hospital construction spending is forecasted at $36.8 billion by 2011 with expected annual increases year to year (source – Center for Medicare & Medicaid Service)
  • 58% of existing hospitals plan to add beds in the next few years to accommodate aging baby boomer populations (source – Nurse Executive Center – CNO Survey)

Ergonomics must be one of the guiding principles in future hospital design.   Let’s not ‘assume’ that Ergonomics is central to the design methodology….DEMAND IT.  Make sure the development teams have MEASURED TWICE…before they finalize design.  The costs of business as usual are too high.

Have something to say on this topic?  Please add your comments. 

If you’d like to discuss our consulting services in this area, please contact Frances Pisano at 401-529-8398 or fpisano@pisanoassociates.com

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Our ERGOLAB team spends a lot of time working in office environments; the day man met PC was a glorious one for workplace accountability – nothing like a digital trail to keep things on the up and up….not so great for the human body.  Why?  As work tasks became more and more automated, our work days became more sedentary. 

Our body was not designed to sit for 8 hours a day; we’re all familiar with the Ergonomics axiom, “the best body posture (position) is the NEXT body posture (position).  Our bodies were designed to hunting, gathering, foraging for food, and sometimes running away VERY quickly when WE became the potential ‘food’ (…and NO, battling the crowds at your local farmer’s market does not qualify as ‘foraging’).   We need movement, we need a variety of position and posture to maintain good body health and flexibility. 

In the past, corporate Health & Safety leadership often overlooked the needs and risks within their office environments; cubicle dwellers don’t use pneumatic equipment, drive a forktruck or work with hazardous materials. Accidents and injuries occurred in other places in the enterprise, except the occasional slip, trip or fall, the office harbored few (or so they thought) risks.  Now, with 20+ years of data  and learning behind us, we understand the very real and very expensive risks associated with unmanaged office ergonomics.  With the average cost of ONE musculoskeletal disorder averaging $25,000 in direct costs and 5 to 8 times that number in indirect costs…a passive approach to office ergonomics is NOT good business. 

Still…old myths and misconceptions in Office Ergonomics die hard. 

Misconception #1

The right chair will solve ALL your problems.  WRONG!   A personal pet peeve and a myth that must DIE (and remember, we SELL ergonomic chairs and tools at www.ergonomicedge.com ).  The office chair, while very important, is one element within an INTEGRATED Ergonomic solution.  Office system manufacturers spend millions to reinforce the belief that a chair (more importantly, their chair) is the answer.  There is no magic chair. Or for that matter keyboard tray, mouse, docking station or document holder.  Products are tools our ERGOLAB Ergonomists use, case by case, client by client, to build an Ergonomic solution, properly designed, personally adjusted, with adequate employee education and product training (you’d be amazed how many companies have NO IDEA how their existing chairs adjust…).  At ERGOLAB, we lead with Ergonomic guidance first…products are a very very distant second.  

Misconception #2

Repetitive Motion is the #1 cause of ergonomic injury.   WRONG!    Yes, repetitive ‘Out-of-Neutral’ motions can and do cause injuries. An example would be anyone who works on spreadsheets for long periods of their day; these folks do A LOT of cutting and pasting within the spreadsheets.  Over the long term, overuse can lead to pain, discomfort and injury.   What surprises most corporate Health & Safety Managers, is that STATIC  “Out-of-Neutral” body postures cause far more injuries….we are a generation of leaners and reachers.   Sitting in a chair for hours at a stretch invites poor postures; next time you are in a lengthy meeting, check out the body positions of everyone around you…..leaning, slouching, etc.  All positions that put extreme stress and pressure on our bodies.   

This underscores the value of careful, thoughtful office design; the cubicle footprint is often driven by ECONOMIC imperatives, rather than ERGONOMIC imperatives.  Think  adjustability of worksurfaces, up/down, in/out.  Make sure all employee tools fall within the REACH ENVELOPE…don’t ask an employee to reach and lean to talk on the phone or lean forward to view a monitor.    

Misconception #3

Office Ergonomics is a ‘hard sell’ in these tough economic times.   WRONG!   Now is precisely the time to integrate Office Ergonomics into your Health & Safety plans for your next fiscal year.  Let’s face it, everyone is working with reduced headcount. This means your current work staff needs to do more…..MUCH MORE….with less.  You need these employees to stay healthy and productive.  Beyond this, Worker’s Compensation costs are soaring…a proactive Ergonomics approach is about preempting injury. Fewer injuries, fewer claims, lower PREMIUMS.   In tough economic times, you can’t afford NOT to invest in Office Ergonomics. 

Misconception #4

Every employee needs the same Ergonomic tools.  WRONG!      Ergonomic solutions are personal; an employees height and body size, health conditions, work functions and personal habits all contribute to and inform an Ergonomic solution.   A good starting place for 90% of the employee population is an adjustable Ergonomic chair and quality adjustable keyboard – but REMEMBER – the workstation MUST be designed with the employee’s idiosyncratic needs in mind. As before, an Ergonomic solution. There is no one size fits all.

 Need some guidance in creating and implementing an Ergonomics program for your business?   Give us a call – 401-527-7047, or email me at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com.

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Yesterday was a good day.  The ERGOLAB team is working with a leading luxury goods manufacturer and marketer to address high risk tasks within production facilities.  The program is moving forward nicely, our redesign is in test phase, solution validation is right around the corner.  Company A is thrilled with the outcome.  

The day BEFORE yesterday…that day wasn’t quite as good.  Similar work on behalf of a different ERGOLAB client continues to stall out, lose momentum and  focus.  This task redesign work lauched months before the above mentioned case study, yet we have little to show for it.  Company B is frustrated, and rightly so.   

At first blush, the clients are very similar; industry leaders, global brands, organizational commitment to Ergonomic practices.  So….why the difference?  Why is Company A so much further along that Company B?   

One word.  EMPOWERMENT.  

At Company A, the culture encourages and rewards employee ‘intrapreneurship’ (think entrepreneurship BUT inside a company structure, not out).  Have a new idea to streamline a process and improve productivity?  Pitch the idea to your up line manager.  Company A employees are expected to partner with management in the continuous improvement initiatives of the company.  As consultants, ERGOLAB gets to partner with client employees who are engaged and invested in the program and it’s outcomes.  There is nothing better than working within a client community of people with pride, enthusiasm, and passion for their work and workplace.   Empowered employees make us look good.  

Company B does not practice an Empowerment management philosophy.  Employee roles are narrowly defined.  Suggestions are accepted, but rarely acted upon.  The employees want to participate in making their workplace a better place, but the current management style doesn’t allow for that type of a role.  Driving positive change at Company B is a challenge; as our ERGOLAB methodologies require employee participation and collaboration in all phases of solution development and testing.   Our biggest hurdle is often MANAGEMENT; their need to control and edit employee involvement and access to ALL the information is a real roadblock. 

So…what about your company?   As an employer, have you created an environment that encourages employee empowerment?      

To paraphrase Lao Tzu in the Tao of Leadership; 

The leader is best… 

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,  

The people say, ‘We did it ourselves.

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Well….the cat is out of the bag.  All this time, American business has been worried about a new attempt by OSHA to create an Ergonomic specific regulation.  Business organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce and others were lining up resources for another fight.  Well folks….it looks like the ‘war’ was won without a single shot.   Hidden in plain sight, is all the regulatory muscle OSHA needs; the general duty clause.

WHAT?  Yes it’s true. During an April 7th web chat, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab stressed that OSHA’s enforcement of ergonomic issues is a key strategic component, and will increase, noting that the general duty clause will be used to cite ergonomic violations.   THE GENERAL DUTY CLAUSE.  It’s not sexy or flashy….but this approach and regulation has teeth.  

The General Duty Clause of the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act (Federal OSHA) states:

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)1: Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)2: Each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(b): Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

Couple the above general duty clause with the new column in the OSHA 300 log capturing Musculoskeletal Disorders in the workplace, and you can begin to see why an Ergonomic specific regulation might not be necessary!

Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels commented that,

OSHA’s field staff will be looking for ergonomic hazards in their inspections and we will be providing them with the support and back-up they need to enforce under the general duty clause. In addition, we will be examining employer logs to see if MSDs are accurately reported,” illustrating the increased emphasis on recordkeeping logs, during OSHA inspections. Michaels stated that OSHA plans to “take a hard look” at employer policies that discourage injury reporting.

You have to give OSHA leadership their ‘props’…the approach is an intelligent, common-sense approach.  No big expensive fight.  Apply the regs that are there….end of story.  

What are your thoughts on OSHA’s new tact????  Agree or disagree??

If you’d like to discuss, feel free to email me at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com or 401.527.7047.

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This blog post was triggered by a question asked by a client during a work session last week (we are re-designing several work tasks within their work environment); she approached us (Frances Pisano our Chief Ergonomist and myself) during a break.  Her son, only 9 years old, had been complaining of pain in his hands and wrists. According to his mom, he spends hours playing his DSi, and has his own cell phone and is just getting into texting.  Her question;

“Is this an Ergonomic issue? Could my 9 year old have a Repetitive Strain Injury?   What should I do?

A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation confirmed what most parents already know;  kids of today are voracious consumers of new media and new technology. The average eleven year old owns a television, laptop computer, cell phone,  MP3 player, gaming system (Sony PS4, Wii)  and a hand-held game or learning device (DSi, LeapFrog).  Children are spending HOURS everyday texting, Tweeting, gaming, downloading music and watching programming.   Texting alone accounts for almost 2 hours per day!  The average number of texts per day is  more than 100! That’s a lot of keystrokes.

Gaming, texting and computing are all activities that require typing.  Small, precise movements with the wrists, hands, and fingers, particularly the thumb.  The body parts involve small muscle groups that fatigue easily and are highly susceptible to Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).   The American Society of Hand Therapists has issued several consumer alerts, warning users of small electronic gadgets that heavy thumb use could lead to painful swelling of the sheath around the tendons in the thumb.   “Blackberry Thumb” the term popularized a few years ago to describe the pain, discomfort and damage caused by excessive texting/emailing on the popular Blackberry PDAs, is being diagnosed in younger and younger patients. 

MOM AND DAD, here’s the reality; your child needs your protection and guidance. 

1.0  BECOME AN EXPERT

Educate yourself on the Ergonomic realities surrounding the use of computers and hand-held devices.  Cornell University’s Human Factors & Ergonomics Department offers an informational web site (http://ergo.human.cornell.edu) that is a great starting point.   Their content on children and computer use will be very eye-opening.

Share this learning with your child; obviously this will be driven by their age and maturity level.  Make them a partner in this process if / when you can.

2.0  MANAGE USAGE

Take control of your child’s use of technology.  Monitor and manage your child’s use of all electronic / computing devices.   Don’t leave it up to the kid…hey THEY’RE KIDS.  They need you to make the hard choices.  Expect to be unpopular. Expect pushback.  

APPLY THE 30 MINUTE RULE.  Limit usage of any device to 30 minutes.   This will dramatically reduce risk of potential injury.   

Take a look at the body postures your child uses when computing, gaming, texting and talking.  Provide guidance on body postures and their importance. “Catch” your child in healthy body postures; recognize and reward this behaviors with extra privileges. (Except MORE TIME with their technology)

3.0  LEAD BY EXAMPLE

What tools and devices do you use for work and life?   Do you practice sound ERGONOMICS?  If your answer is NO or MAYBE….you have work to do.  Provide a great example for your child and TALK ABOUT IT.   Your kids will model, emulate your behavior. If you pay attention to these issues, they will too. 

4.0  GET INVOLVED AT THEIR SCHOOL

Other than your home environment, no other place has more impact and influence on your child’s Ergonomic health.

Get involved in your school’s Parent / teacher organizations.  Introduce the topic of Ergonomics to the agenda; push for an open discussion about how, when, where and why your kids are using electronic devices.  

5.0     LOW HANGING FRUIT – THE BACKPACK

Do you know how many books your kid is lugging around everyday?   Find out. Talk to your child’s teacher.  On average, your child should carry NO MORE than 5% of their body weight.  Following are guideline provided by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) specific to a person’s weight and the ideal MAXIMUM backpack weight.

* No one should carry more than 25 lbs in a backpack

Invest in a quality backpack for your child.  Forgo the Hannah Montana or Dallas Cowboys backpack for a quality ERGONOMICALLY designed product, look for;

  • Smaller is better – you can’t over pack a small backpack
  • High quality rip-stop fabric
  • Wide, well- padded straps
  • Superior adjustability

 

Bottom line – your child’s Ergonomic Health is up to you. Your example, guidance and persistence will ensure their safety and well-being. 

Following are some links to valuable information:

Kaiser Family Foundation Study – http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf

International Children’s Ergonomics – http://www.icefonline.org/

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