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SLA Report: Jeanne Korman
When Work Hurts: Ergonomics of Computer Workstations
The dos and don'ts of ergonomics of computer workstations were discussed by Carol Stuart Buttle, a certified professional ergonomist. In preparation for her presentation for this session, Buttle, who runs her own consulting firm, Stuart-Buttle Ergonomics, visited a local Philadelphia library to look at uses of computers in libraries. Her discussion was illustrated by slides taken of workers at this library, thereby giving the audience a very realistic view of the ergonomics of computer stations in libraries. Not only did this allow the audience to relate to the talk, but also it was flattering that the speaker took the time to look at the special problems encountered in a library setting. After a general overview of ergonomics, the presentation turned to ways to keep healthy and comfortable when using a computer, including proper posture, lighting, positioning of the computer and seating. Aspects that should be considered are the job, the equipment, the workstation, the environment, training and software.
In her general discussion, Buttle told the audience that ergonomics is the study of human response, human factors engineering. As an interesting historical note, she mentioned that all military design has been required to be ergonomically correct since the 1950s. The importance of ergonomics in daily life has taken longer to reach the mainstream populace. Ergonomics is cognitive as well as physical. Proper ergonomics allows people to perform at their best. It is the interaction of employee, equipment, and environment. When looking at this inter-action to achieve the best ergonomic environment, the problems of interference and distraction from poor ergonomics must be understood.
Good natural posture is key. Neutral upright neck posture is necessary. Wrists, knees and ankles should be relaxed, not strained. You need to move about every 20 minutes. The next step in achieving an ergonomically correct environment is to identify the tasks of the job. If the work area is not properly set up, the worker will move more frequently.
A proper keyboard will ensure against upper extremity discomfort. Buttle surprised many in the audience by commenting that a wrist support attached to the keyboard should not be used while typing but only as a resting place while waiting or between projects. The wrist should be supported while at rest. The ideal keyboard would have an extension of about 15 degrees, a roll of 15 degrees, and a yaw, or split, of about 30 degrees. Buttle suggests that the Microsoft keyboard comes closest to achieving this ideal.
Try to get as much support as possible for the arm using the mouse to avoid neck and shoulder discomfort. Buttle suggests bringing the mouse down, close and in. The user must also be aware of the monitor height and make adjustments to prevent neck and eye strain. Glasses present unique problems. Glasses are available just for computer use. It is also possible to change the number of pixels to make reading the screen easier. Consideration should be given to factors such as font size. A final suggestion to help avoid neck strain is to use a speaker-phone or a headset for the phone.
Buttle gave methods for avoiding visual discomfort. Low ambient light is needed for the computer with supplemental light for reading papers. If the light is too bright it is much harder to see. Really good contrast is needed. Control the direction of light. A computer facing a window will have a direct glare. Also adjust the contrast and brightness of the monitor to your personal level of comfort. Finally, be sure that the visual distance is correct for you.
Back discomfort is experienced by the huge majority of workers. Chairs that do not fit the workers are a major cause of most back discomfort. Attention should be paid to the depth, the height, and the lower back support of chairs. It is important that feet be supported. If your feet do not touch the floor, if you sit with your feet propped on chair legs, if you sit on your leg, or if you chronically cross your legs, you probably have unsupported feet. Foot supports are available and should be considered if you have any of these indications.
An important element in getting a good ergonomic fit is training. The users must be trained in their equipment to ensure that personal adjustments can be made for the best personal fit, e.g. adjust a chair or monitor contrast.
Buttle tells us all to have ergo eyes, to look objectively at our workplaces. Use self-awareness of what you are doing to understand what will work for you and you can have a safe ergonomic work environment.
Jeanne Korman is Manager of Library Services, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, Miami, Florida. email@example.com