Interiors & Sources Continuing Education Series articles allow design practitioners to earn continuing education unit credits through the pages of the magazine. Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this issue's article. To receive credit, see the series of questions and follow the instructions.
After reading this article, you should be able to:
- Identify three common types of upper body injuries caused by repetitive stress.
- Discuss the causes of these injuries and identify those causes that are impacted by decision made by workplace designers.
- identify the important considerations to be made when specifying work station furniture.
- provide an analysis of the important relationship between furniture design and primary-zone ergonomics.
If you hold your hand straight out from your forearm, you can wiggle your fingers all day and not irritate any tendons. However, if you bend the wrist while working with your fingers, friction is created at the joint, leading to inflammation of the tendon or tendon sheath, or both.
The key to preventing tendonitis is good posture—that is, working with the joints in a neutral position so that the tendons are not stretched across bones. If we control posture, we control the condition.
The finer points of proper work station ergonomics are quite technical, but here are the four essential guidelines to assure minimal physical stress while keying on a laptop or desktop:
In general, the workstation should be set up so that the most frequent activities take place in the primary zone, with the joints in neutral positions and the arms comfortably at the sides. It's important to remember that people come in a great variety of shapes and sizes. This means that workstation design—as well as furniture specification—has to allow for adjustment. A workstation perfectly set up for a person who is six feet, three inches tall will probably be a source of injury to someone who is five-feet-two, and vice versa.
This is one reason (out of several) why I stressed, in the first article, the importance of getting your client involved in a training program that empowers office workers to understand these basic issues of workstation ergonomics and adjust their own workstations accordingly. We recommend that this program include a page on the company Intranet for training and reference. I expect that training employees to set up and use their workstations in ergonomically correct ways will be required by law in the future. But even more important, our clients' experience shows that proper ergonomic setup can have very big benefits in insurance and workmen's compensation claims, productivity and employee health and well-being.
It's the right thing to do on all accounts.
Dr. Mark Vettraino, a consultant working with Teknion, is director of Task Group International, a leading consulting firm in the field of workplace ergonomics. Over the last 20 years he and his company have consulted with scores of clients, including some of the largest corporations in North America, as well as leading furniture manufacturers.