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Ergonomics In The Workplace
ERGONOMICS IN THE WORK PLACE
In the past, most businesses have strived for high production at low cost. This strategy resulted in the highest profit for a company. When in reality to many businesses, this was only a mirage. This was because the “lower cost” of the business usually resulted in a “higher cost” for the employees. This lower cost for businesses may have meant lower quality workplace items, lower salaries, less benefits, etc. These lower costs created an upset workplace environment for the employees. This upset has help found a new branch of science called Ergonomics. “Ergonomics is a relatively new branch of science which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1999, but relies on research carried out in many other older established scientific areas, such as engineering, physiology, and psychology.” (http://www.ergonomics.org.uk/ergonomics.htm). Once it became clear that businesses needed to take into account the human environment factors that faced their employees it resulted in the discipline of ergonomics.
There exist many different things in the workplace that add to stress and injuries. They range from lifting heavy boxes to typing too much on the keyboard. However, the focus on this paper will be on the principals of ergonomics in the office and computer environment. Exactly, what is ergonomics? “Ergonomics, or Human Factors as it is known in North America, is a branch of science that aims to learn about human abilities and limitations and then apply that knowledge to improve people’s interaction with products, systems and environments.” (http://www.ergonomics.org.uk/ergonomics.htm). “The word, ergonomics, is derived from the greek words ergos meaning “work” and nomos meaning “laws”; therefore, we have the laws of work. Ergonomics can be further defined as the design of the workplace, equipment, machine, tool, product, environment, and system, taking into consideration human’s physical, physiological, biomechanical, and psychological capabilities.” (http://www.tifaq.org/ergonomics.html). As stated earlier, the focus of this paper is to concentrate on the factors of ergonomics resulting from office and computer work. One reason is because the world has been faced with an explosion of computer technology. As more and more work, education and recreation involves computers, everyone needs to be aware of the hazards of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), also referred to as Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD), to the hands and arms resulting from the use of computer keyboards and mice. This can be a serious and very painful condition that is far easier to prevent than to cure once contracted, and can occur even in young physically fit individuals. “Most CTD’s are preventable and curable if caught early. The key is to notice trouble when it starts – and do something about it. Early signs may include persistent pain, tingling, numbness, burning, or aching. The signs may be constant or may occur mostly after certain activities. The drastic cures --- such as surgery --- are not reliable and should be a last resort. Nevertheless, a health professional should be consulted when you are concerned about possible early signs.” (http://www.office-ergo.com/alternat.htm). There are also factors concerning who is more likely to get a CTD than others. “Some people get CTD’s because their bodies are vulnerable to them. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome seems to be related to diabetes, overweight, thyroid conditions, hormone conditions such as those caused by hysterectomy or removal of both ovaries, rheumatoid arthritis, previous injuries, and other conditions. Smoking may also increase the risk. Anyone with any of these conditions --- particularly obesity --- should be especially careful about prevention.” (http://www.office-ergo/com/alternat.htm). It is not uncommon for people to have to leave computer-dependent careers as a result, or even to be permanently disabled and unable to perform tasks such as driving or dressing themselves.
As computer use has increased, workers who spend long hours at terminals began to show signs of physical strain that had never before been acknowledged with desk work. Some complaints were headaches, backaches, neck and shoulder tension, wrist and hand injuries, eyestrain, and general irritability. These complaints led to the emergence of new scientist, called ergonomists, to concentrate on these new complaints and find ways of improving health. “Ergonomists use information about people, for example, their size (height, weight etc.), their ability to handle information and make decisions, their ability to see and hear and their ability to work in extremes of temperature. An ergonomist studies the way that these things vary in a group of people. With this information, the ergonomists, working with designers and engineers, ensures that a product or service will be able to be used comfortably, efficiently and safely. This must be so not only for ‘average’ people, but also for the whole range of people who use the product – including perhaps, children, the elderly and the disabled. An ergonomists can also assess existing products and services, showing where they fail to ‘fit’ the user (in every sense of the word) and suggesting how this fit may be improved.” (http://www.ergonomics.org.uk/ergonomics.htm). Ergonomists have helped many businesses improve working conditions and employee health issues related to computer and office work. In many cases, most employers are responsible for any health issues that may arise from their employees due to work hazards.
Work hazards may be caused by many different factors in the environment. In the average computer workstation, employees are prone to over a dozen hazards. There exist two factors that can prevent this: forming good work habits and ergonomically designed computer workstations. There will be a major focus on prevention through this paper. These work hazards can cause several different injuries such as, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD), and Repetitive Motion Disorder (RMD). “They are described as painful conditions of the hands, arms, neck, and back that develop over days, weeks or years. Other terms used to describe this general group of disorders include Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD), Repetitive Motion Disorder (RMD), and Overuse Syndrome. Epidemiological research has determined that if these biomechanical conditions are present, the incidence of work-related injuries increases. These conditions are therefore known as risk factors for musculoskeletal injury.” (http://www.diversergo.com/data.html). Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) takes place from the repeated physical movements of certain body parts which result in damage to tendons, nerves, muscles, and other soft body tissues. If these injuries are not taken care of immediately, permanent damage could be done. A few common results of RSI’s that were not taken care of right away are injuries like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendentious, Tenosynovitis, DeQuervain’s Syndrome, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, etc. This paper will continue to focus more closely at RSI’s and CTD’s. These are more commonly found in office and computer workers.
One of the many results of RSI’s is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. “When muscles and tendons are over-used without sufficient time for healing and repair, microscopic tearing occurs. This tearing causes swelling and pain. When it is the hands and wrists which are subjected to this kind of strain, swelling may impinge on the median nerve, which runs through the narrow carpal tunnel at the wrist. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the name of one condition which affects the wrist and hands. Irritation to the median nerve at the wrist can lead to a variety of symptoms, such as pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness.” (http://www.s-sc.com/risk.htm). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is very common with computer users. “The average person working at a keyboard can perform 50,000 to 200,000 keystrokes a day. Small repetitive movements can disturb the delicate balance of muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the hand and cause cumulative trauma disorders (CTD’s), also known as Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s).” (http://www.ergonomics.ucla.edu/Ergowebv2.0/articles/rsianatomy.htm).
There are many symptoms of CTD’s. “Some of the symptoms of CTD’s are: tightness, discomfort, stiffness, or pain in the hands, wrists, fingers, forearms, or elbows; tingling coldness, or numbness in the hands; clumsiness or loss of strength and coordination in the hands; pain that wakes you up at night; feeling a need to massage your hands, wrists, and arms.” (http://www.emporia.edu/ibed/jour/jour11/tinabrn1/html/).
Because of these many disorders, doctors don’t always diagnose CTD’s correctly. “The most knowledgeable medical specialists for CTD’s are generally considered to be physiatrists, or physical medicine specialists.” (http://www.office-ergo.com/alternat.htm). Besides repetitious work there are other causes of CTD’s and they include: holding the same position, posture, direct pressure on nerves or tendons, use of force, cold temperatures and vibration.
Another common condition of office and computer-related work include back pain. Most office and computer workers are restrained to desk work most of the day. “People who sit for long periods are at risk for back disorders. The two greatest problems seem to be 1) sitting upright or forward, and 2) not changing position.” (http://www.office-ergo.com/12things/htm). The key also is to move around and not to sit in one position for extended periods of time.
Additionally, there are many computer users who complain with visual discomfort. “Specialists like James Sheedy a
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