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Posts Tagged ‘Ergonomics’


I can remember when I started out in the professional world, my father gave me some advice, in his words, “In business there are 3 things you NEVER discuss”  (for fear of offending or alienating with anyone with a differing point-of-view);

1. Religion

2. Sex

3. Politics

Well….after our blog post 2 days ago on ERGOLAB’s concerns with the ergonomic issues of the Apple iPad, I am nominating another topic that is not open to discussion or questioning. 

    4.     Apple (and anything having to do Apple, it’s products, leadership etc)

The response from Apple nation was impressive and loud. Apple has a fantastic reputation for excellence in product design; creating products that anticipate consumer needs intuitively. Apple users are passionate and proud of their community.  

Some reader comments;

– Apple might be leaving the heavy lifting to the after-market.  Similar to the iPod series, the iPhone, and the iTouch, Apple is relying on the secondary market to address the ergonomic issues around the product; outside ideas and design will fill the gaps.  If this is their thinking, we are a little disappointed Apple did not address the issues within the core design.  This device does not come cheap; after investing $499 for the iPad unit; ergonomic accessories could add another $100 or more to that price tag.  Our concern is that many consumers will do without the enhancements; due to budget or ignorance of the ergonomic risks.

– Under pressure to deliver a tablet device to the market (Apple’s original target date was October 2009), Apple chose to release an interim model. An enhanced version will be offered at a later date. If this is the case, delay your purchase and wait for increased functionality and sound ergonomics. Particularly if you plan on using the iPad as a small format ‘writing’ or ‘creating’  tool.

-Loving the iPhone and slamming the iPad is hypocritical.  Yes, the iPhone poses some ergonomic issues, texting being #1 on the list.  Human Factors research proves that the mechanics of texting, regardless of device, are damaging.  I would counter your comments with this; the iPhone was never positioned or marketed as a replacement for the laptop.  The Apple iPad is being marketed in this way; a SLIPPERY SLOPE in our eyes. People will use this device for writing, with or without the iPad Dock accessory, that usage is high risk. 

– A very agitated Apple worshipper demanded that I return my iPhone, my laptop and go back to those big ugly, clunky desktops of yesteryear.  I hit a nerve with him. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Apple iPad has ergonomic flaws. 

Take a look at the Apple provided promotional photo to the left, our ERGOLAB team identified several risk factors FROM APPLE’S OWN MARKETING MATERIALS!

Photo 1 – The left hand holding this device is in EXTREME STATIC ulnar deviation, which is a well-known risk factor for the wrist.  Check out the extended index finger; this product will lead to overuse of the index finger due to repetitive and prolonged scrolling. Don’t get us started on the risks to the ‘one-finger’ typists who will use iPad for emailing, document creation and more.

Photo 2 – Both wrists are in EXTREME STATIC wrist extension. This position is often the culprit, in causing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and other wrist Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI).

These identified risks scratch the surface ergonomically.  The Apple iPad is not well-designed to support computing – writing emails or creating documents.  Typing on the iPad, while it is laying on a flat surface, creates static neck flexion which causes discomfort, pain and possibly REAL INJURY. 

If you buy this product – do not type for long stretches. Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) can and will occur.  If you choose to adapt your iPad; adding the docking system and keyboard, static neck flexion is reduced, BUT STILL PRESENT.  Injury is possible even with investment in the iPad Dock with keyboard.

The bottom line; using this device ‘as-is’ poses real risk of injury. It’s our responsibility at ERGOLAB to surface these issues, it’s our job, it’s what we do.  Just don’t shoot the messenger.

What’s your point-of-view on the Apple iPad?  We’d love to hear from you.

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I, like many of you, am addicted to the iPhone.  This love affair began almost 14 months ago; together my iPhone and I have surfed the web, dined in the finest restaurants, navigated the world, and downloaded app after app. We’ve Tweeted, Friended and Linked.  I think it’s forever. No…I know it’s forever.

Today, the company responsible for my iPhone introduced a new member of the Apple family, the Apple  iPad.  Would it be love again?? Would this iPad wiggle it’s way into my life and my affections?

Sadly, what began with such promise and hope…is now dashed.  While my iPhone love has transformed my life;  how I make phone calls, surf the web, connect to friends and clients through social media like Twitter, Linked In and Facebook, and yes, even update this blog – the iPad is little more than a giant iTouch.  It’s a ‘tweener’ product, elbowing it’s way into the Apple family portrait.  Bigger than an iTouch with a larger QWERTY touchscreen  but without the computing power and reach of the Apple Powerbook lines.  

Beyond my personal realization that the Apple iPad doesn’t seem to have a place and purpose in my own life, our ERGOLAB team has some deeper concerns with the ERGONOMIC implications of the product.  We already know that laptops can create significant Ergonomic challenges without tricking the tool out with accessories; docking station, keyboard, keyboard tray, monitor, monitor arm and wireless mouse.  Once we have pimped out our laptop with Ergonomic accessories, the configuration must be adjusted (ideally by a trained Ergonomist) to ensure neutral body postures and avoid injury.   WHEW…exhausting.

The Apple iPad has all the Ergonomic challenges associated with the laptop AND takes another step in the WRONG DIRECTION.  Typing on the iPad touchscreen while the iPad rests on a flat surface will force the neck into more extreme static neck flexion or extension depending on the users posture. Eye strain is also a risk.  TRANSLATED – typing on the iPad for any stretch of time will create neck pain, possible eye strain and could cause injury. 

The ability to attach a keyboard to the iPad (the iPad Dock) was a good move by Apple; but no consideration was given into the lack of adjustability of the height of the screen once it is attached to the iPad Dock. This was a missed opportunity by Apple to address head-on the Ergonomic issues related to laptop use (these issues are well-documented).  The ability to telescope the iPad up and down would allow the iPad to be adjusted to the proper height for the user, ensuring neutral neck postures and subsequently, comfortable viewing.

Take a look Flybook’s VM Theory laptop – pictured below – the solutions are out in the marketplace; it is a shame Apple didn’t take this opportunity to address the Ergonomic limitations of small format computing (laptop and tablet formats).

What are your thoughts on the Apple iPad?  We’d love to hear from you.

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Is the term Ergonomic overused?

Everywhere you look, products are touting their Ergonomic qualities and benefits. A quick walk through an office supply or electronics superstore surfaces dozens and dozens of products that allege ERGONOMIC superiority.

So…how do we, the consumers, KNOW that this claim is valid. The reality….we don’t.

The claim Ergonomic has no legal standard or guideline. The consumer has no real protection from unscrupulous manufacturers and resellers who slap an Ergonomic claim on their product; and then fail to deliver. Or worse…actually do harm to the user who has a reasonable expectation that the product will meet their ERGONOMIC requirements and uses the product in good faith.

The term Ergonomic has gone the way of past marketing buzzwords like “Fresh”, “Lite”, and “Green”. Those terms are now policed by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), there is a duty of care and claims must be valid and proven. Is that coming for the word ERGONOMIC?  Maybe. The challenge with Ergonomics, is that no product alone is ERGONOMIC. Who, How and Where the product is used also factors into the Ergonomic equation. You, the consumer/user, factor into the equation.   

When considering a purchase of any product that claims Ergonomic benefit – slow down and do your homework;  

  • Check with the experts, ensure the product comes from a source with history and integrity. 
  • Does the product offer maximum adjustability, to adapt to you, your body, your home or work environment? 
  • Is training or detailed instruction provided on the product?  
  • and last….your adherence to proper usage is essential.

Don’t fall for the marketing hype – be an informed consumer.  The term Ergonomic is everywhere in product marketing, learn to separate the quality products and solutions, from the frauds.   As they say, “Caveat Emptor”.

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I was in a meeting with a new client last week.  “Linda” (not her real name), is the Director of Environmental Health & Safety for a growing biotech firm.   Our firm has been brought in to address a growing number of Repetitive Strain Injuries in the company’s lab facilities.  “Linda” shared her frustrations with the company’s past approach to Repetitive Motion injuries;

“We wait until something bad happens, until it’s too late to avoid injury and the costs associated with the injury. We practice Whack-a-Mole Ergonomics.  When an employee complains of pain…WHACK…only then can I get them support.   Another issue in a different part of the company, WHACK…again, band-aid the issue with a product or even bring in an Ergonomist to take a closer look at that employees issues.  We spend all our time WHACKING and reacting; we need to get ahead of the issues.” 

Linda’s Whack-a-Mole analogy describes the reality in most companies; expertise and instruction is brought in after pain &/or injury.  When the average direct cost of a Musculoskeletal injury is $25,000 (that excludes indirect costs that average 4 x that number based on OSHA data) – the cost of Whack-a-Mole Ergonomics can add up quickly.  A significant part of our Ergonomic practice is working with client’s to build a PROACTIVE Ergonomics program within their company.  Following is an Action Plan you can use today, to take control of Ergonomic issues in your company, and leave the Whack-a-Mole approach behind.  For a deeper discussion on how to implement this program you can email me at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com.

Proactive Approach to ERGONOMICS:

Action 1.0

Build a business case on the value of the PROACTIVE approach to Ergonomics.  Leverage the resources that are available from OSHA, NIOSH, National Bureau of Labor & Statistics and academia – Cornell, UCLA and others.  Using your company’s historical OSHA recordable data; build an air-tight case for why the proactive approach is better business. Focus on the bottom line impact.

Action 2.0

With your business case in hand – pitch Executive leadership and secure commitment to a long-term Ergonomic program.

Action 3.0

Ensure Ergonomics is integrated into your fiscal planning cycle; the program must be integrated into your Environmental Health & Safety strategy. The EHS community may also need to be sold on the approach; share your business case. 

Action 4.0

Identify Ergonomic consulting resource for support of activity (in most cases companies do not have resident expertise).  Potential partner should have deep experience in task assessment and redesign across all company environments (Manufacturing, Material Handling, Warehousing, Office, Laboratory, Field etc). In addition, review firm’s methodology, ensure actions measurable (as you will be asked to demonstrate program value at some point – be ready for this – put onus on consultant/partner). Talk with current and past clients. 

Action 5.0 – Getting Started

5.1 – Build a Communication Plan around the launch and ongoing merchandising of your Ergonomic program. Included in this plan – Introduction to Ergonomics training for all employees (baseline understanding and value of Ergonomics), Company Champions Program – identify internal Ergonomic program Champions by functional area.

5.2 – Launch program with company-wide Pain & Discomfort Survey. It’s purpose – isolate work environments, tasks and employee categories with injury markers. Outcome – map out high/medium/low risk tasks – permits company to prioritize and align investments

5.3 – Isolate high risk tasks for assessment & redesign – launch Ergonomics work…

Building support and positive momentum is central to getting in front of Ergonomic issues.  If you have any questions, we’re here to help!

Some valuable links to assist you in building your Ergonomics business case:

Puget Sound Human Factors & Ergonomics Society Chapter Cost Benefit Analysis Calculator  – http://bit.ly/PugetHFESCalc

Cornell Ergonomics ROI Calculator – http://bit.ly/CornellROI

OSHA eTools – Computer Workstations – http://bit.ly/OSHAeTools

NIOSH – http://bit.ly/NIOSHErgo

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Being a naturally curious person, I kicked around cyberspace, looking for guidance on blogging before I started this ERGOLAB blog. Who are the current thought leaders? Who is really using blogging and other social media, like Twitter, Facebook, Linked In for real business? Would a blog add to our customer’s experience with Ergonomic Edge (our products and consulting business) or would it be a distraction?

During my search, I surfaced the book, “Six Pixels of Separation” by Mitch Joel. I read the book cover to cover in one day, started the ERGOLAB blog, and never looked back. I recommend this book to anyone looking to understand the power of social media. The marketplace is changing, relationships, personal and professional, are being forged in new ways. Buy the book. Read the book.

SO…what does this have to do with Ergonomics? I track Mitch Joel’s Six Pixel blog daily (it is so worth the time); a recent post on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), chatting about new trends in electronics seemed innocent enough. AND THEN WHAM, the import of Mitch’s comments hit me like the proverbial TON OF BRICKS. Our business, ERGONOMICS is going to change dramatically, because our customers are changing.

Our practice crosses many industries; we work with corporate Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) leadership to find injury drivers within any company environment. Manufacturing, Material Handling & Warehousing, Laboratory…the most common environment is the OFFICE; that magical area of cubicles, copiers and filing cabinets. Where the work is typically heads-down computing, many hours sitting in an office chair typing, talking and writing. Our Ergonomic Edge practice works with clients to design office environments that are human-friendly; provide the support, flexibility and adjustability every worker needs to maintain good ergonomic health. We market and sell Ergonomic seating and accessories products that support this work, the train employees on proper use and adjustment.

So, what Six Pixel comment triggered my epiphany? Take a look…

Our homes (like our offices) are fully connected.

In fact, as more and more devices like the iPhone, BlackBerry, laptops and netbooks take hold, all of us are (or can be) connected all of the time (and yes, this includes our cars as well). Think about it: How many people still go to a physical location to sit down and “surf the Web” in their home or office, compared to the number of people that now have laptops with wireless connections who are online wherever they are? (read the whole post – http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/embracing-the-new-business-of-new-media/)

The office, as we know it, is vanishing before our eyes. If you can work anywhere, at any time with the new ‘connectedness’ and new mobile tools – why is your office necessary? Office space costs real money; tricking out the office space with cubicles, desks, chairs and tools adds even more costs. Mr Corporate Bean Counter is asking that question right now…do we need to have offices when our people can work in their homes, at the kitchen table, with little or no impact on productivity?

The office will go the way of the dinosaur, the mastodon and the XFL (remember the XFL…it was the NFL but edgier?).

So….as Ergonomists, we’ll have new challenges:

  • Our purview will extend into the HOME of our corporate client’s employees.
  • No longer will a large chunk of employees all be working within a predictable, standard office environment model – now, every home environment will be different.
  • Due diligence will increase at the worker level.
  • Customization time will increase at the worker level.
  • Old tools, Ergonomic products and accessories will need to be adapted (and some will not make the cut).
  • New tools, new Ergonomic products and accessories will be invented to support this new mobile workforce.

The real challenge.   When the corporate pendulum swings from one paradigm to the next, the shift tends to stop at the extreme. EHS leadership, Safety & Health consultants & Ergonomists must ensure the remote employee is adequately supported in their alternative work environments with tools and training. There will be costs associated with this support. The corporate bean counters will need this guidance. Tools, products and training, on some levels will still be  necessary.

I am interested in your POV on this topic.

Where do you think the ‘office’ is heading?   What kinds of tools will this new worker need?

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At ERGOLAB, we spend a lot of time with prospective clients, assisting them in building a business case for why Ergonomics must be included in their company’s  Health & Safety programs for the coming year.  The pitch takes data;  hard proof that Ergonomics delivers measurable, bottom line impact to an enterprise.  We include findings from our completed programs, as well as data from the Public sector resources; OSHA, NIOSH and academia.  Of these outside resources, no report is more meaningful and valuable than the Workplace Safety Index.    

For 10 years, Liberty Mutual, in partnership with the US Bureau of Labor & Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance have tracked the leading causes of workplace injury and the aggregated costs associated with those injuries.  The report, known as the 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index or WSI, was made available this week. This year’s report captures injury data from calendar year 2007. The report deep dives the Top 10 injury categories, as these injuries are responsible for just over 86% of all costs associated with workplace injury.    

TOP 10 – Category / Cost / % of total    

  1. Overexertion – Injuries caused from  lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, or carrying a heavy object  – $12.7B, 24%
  2. Fall on same level – $7.7B, 14.6%
  3. Fall to lower level – $6.2B, 11%
  4. Bodily reaction – injuries from slips or trips without falling – $5.4B, 11.2%
  5. Struck by object – $4.7B, 9%
  6. Highway incident – $2.5B, 4.7%
  7. Caught In/ Compressed By – $2.1B, 3.9%
  8. Repetitive Motion – $2.0B, 3.8%
  9. Struck Against Object – $2.0B, 3.8%
  10. Assaults or Violent Acts – $0.6B, 1.1%

    

 What do these numbers tell us?    

ERGONOMICS IS MAKING AN IMPACT.    

Over the 10 year span of the research, Repetitive Motion injuries like carpal tunnel and tendonitis have declined by over 35%.  Proactive Ergonomic strategies, like task assessment and redesign, are making an impact.  In particular, the work done in improving working conditions in OFFICE ENVIRONMENTS has delivered results.  Office technology like computers, keyboards, and computer mice are more ergonomically designed, informed by years of Human Factors & Ergonomics research.  The office environment is better equipped to support the SEATED human body for longer periods of time; as an example, office chair design has leaped forward, providing improved support and adjustability.  Improvements in other tools like keyboards trays, task lighting and adjustable worksurfaces ensure neutral posture and reduce/eliminate extensions beyond the reach envelope.      

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT – ERGONOMICS CAN DO MORE    

OVEREXERTION driven injuries, from lifting, pushing, pulling an object have dropped by 5.7% over the ten year span of the study, some improvement, however more work needs to be done.  The human body is being asked to perform physical tasks BEYOND its abilities.  The bottom line, these work tasks must be identified, assessed and redesigned.     

In an earlier blog post we discussed the impact Patient Handling is having on Nursing / Healthcare Provider Safety.  Everyday, the American nurse lifts an average of 1.5 tons of weight.  The result; injury and lost productivity.  This is one example of many existing in US business today.  Ergonomic task assessment and redesign is essential; the cost to the US economy is staggering; $24B in direct costs.      

COSTS CONTINUE TO RISE.

Even as the number and severity of workplace injuries decline (or stay flat). Costs continue to increase.  Over the ten year span of the study (1998 to 2007), costs  increased between 5.4% to 5.8%  year to year on average.   Not surprising, as healthcare costs everywhere are spiralling out of control.  This cost escalation only reinforces the need to continue to focus on injury reduction and elimination.  Of course, Ergonomics can and will play a role in this activity.       

Are there work tasks within your business that you’d like to discuss?  We’re here to help.    

For a closer look at the WSI, use the following link – http://bit.ly/8513J9    

 

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In many parts of the world, the corner tavern, bar, tap-room, saloon or pub  is the place to be on a Friday night. The work week has come to a close and it’s time to catch-up with friends, hoist a few, have some fun. (Yes, to those interested, strains of Billy Joel’s Piano Man are playing in my head).

 When bellying up to the bar to order that next round, take a look at the design and layout of the space.  My guess, your local pub does not look that much different from the bar around the corner or around the world. Why?  Bar design is iconic and time-tested. Centuries of learning have gone into the placement of pub elements.  At the center of the design rationale;  ERGONOMICS.

Ergonomics is the science of designing an environment to address and fit human needs; while it is more often applied in a work environment (ergo means work in Latin),  in the case of a tavern environment – it is about creating a space of physical support and comfort.  Ever notice how easy is it to lose track of time in a pub?  It’s not just the Guinness or martini causing this time warp; the environment is designed to wrap you in a cocoon. Warm, cozy, comfortable, leaving the pub is like leaving the womb. 

Let’s start with the height of the bar; 42 inches. Why? That height is the most ergonomic height for a top that services both the seated and standing user.  Seated in a 29″ to 31″ bar stool, a 42″ bar counter is ideal for the seated bar patron. It is also a comfortable height for most people to lean against.  Additionally the bar top is in easy reach of a standing person so they can set their food and drink down without leaning over.

Take a look at the foot rest at the base of the bar. Not just a decorative element, this footrest permits the standing patron to alter their stance and posture from time to time while standing at the bar for long periods of time.  An old Ergonomics adage “the best position, is the NEXT position”; this footrest provides standing customers with a multitude of options over time.   This means you can STAY and imbibe longer, more comfortably.

So, next time you are relaxing at your favorite neighborhood watering hole, remember, the design is no accident.  Ergonomics had something to do with it.

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