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(Note: Each month I attend a luncheon meeting of the Baltimore Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators and the meetings usually feature a speaker.  Although many of the speakers focus on issues related to administrators of larger firms, there are many times when the topic applies to firms of all sizes.  In January, the topic was ergonomics and how to help employees (and practitioners) solve problems that may be a result of problems with office furniture and the office environment.
            Although I expected the speaker to talk about buying new office equipment, that was not the case.  He talked about posture.  He said that the most expensive equipment or office equipment will not help anyone if it is not used correctly and to use it correctly involves -posture.
            His presentation was excellent.  His discussion of posture was extremely helpful.  I have made an effort to follow some of his suggestions. Tony Biafore, President of Ergonomics, LLC in Montgomery County has given me permission to reproduce parts of an article he wrote, "Voodoo ergonomics causes more harm than good…Bad decisions can be costly!"  
            While there were a number of products that Tony did demonstrate, the key to their effectiveness is proper posture when using these products.  It is the same theory as with technology - these are just tools to make it easier for us to be more productive.  If we do not use them correctly, we might as well not use them at all.   The article and issue is worth considering especially for solo and small firm practitioners where it is even more critical that you and your employees be as productive and healthy as possible. )

            According to Tony, "workers’ compensation claims related to repetitive motion are on the rise! There has been a dramatic increase in this class of injury since technology has become so prevalent in the office. We are starting to use computers at younger ages, working longer hours, and becoming increasingly more dependent on upon them. There are many terms and acronyms associated with these types of injuries; Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), over use injuries (OUI), muscular skeletal disorder (MSD) and on and on. Cumulative trauma disorder CTD sums it up best, meaning aliments caused by repetitive motion, over time, in bad postures. By recognizing risk factors and addressing them, a solo or small firm practitioner can address ergonomic issues before they have a material impact. "
Most solo and small firm practitioner would never even think that the topic of ergonomics had anything to do with their practice but Tony says "rest assured it is a real dilemma. The biggest and most costly investment a company has today is in its people. Salary, benefits, insurance and perks all add up. These are costs that are tangible and real. Unfortunately, ergonomics is prevention and this is always the best medicine. The cost associated with effective intervention far out weighs the costs associated with workers compensation claims, increased insurance premiums, rehabilitation, not to mention medical, absenteeism, productivity, administrative, legal and morale issues. It is actually cost effective to make ergonomic upgrades for less than $300.00 per individual, than to deal with the costs of a workers compensation claim, now upwards of $30,000 per case. Good ergonomics is good economics!" 
As I have said on numerous occasions, solo and small firm practitioners are more heavily dependent upon their staff than larger firms because there are so many fewer.  If you have two people on staff and one is out, you have lost 50% of your staff.  The same is true for you.  As a solo practitioner, it is critical that you be as healthy and productive as possible because there is usually no backup.
Tony's article continues, "during recent years, the term ergonomics has become all too familiar to managers and decision makers as the “rising tide” of work related injuries in the office continue to proliferate. Although good, sound ergonomic decisions can have an impact on business, bad ones can be extremely costly. Voodoo ergonomics is a phase we use that applies to ineffective ergonomics gimmicks. It occurs when organizations spend money, time and resources making ergonomic decisions with the right intentions, but without achieving the desired results. This is because the focus is usually on a commodity, i.e. chair, wrist rests or adjustable keyboard trays (AKT’s) and not the actual cause of the problem. The term ergonomics has been applied to a plethora of products most of which have no proven substance or research behind them. In the computerized work environment, we continue to see repetitive motion injuries increase dramatically and yet worker’s compensation claims, firms are finding out the hard way that ergonomic issues in the office can be costly and need to be addressed correctly and efficiently.

            Simply put, the issues in the office center around posture and the proper use of equipment. So, this begs the question, what should the firm (you) do ? The answer is to become educated on the causes of computer related work injury, their prevention and how to mitigate them. Utilizing the right tools and training the worker to achieve low risk working postures reduces injury rates and can keep a firm fiscally healthier."
Tony suggests "a holistic approach is necessary to successfully combat your ergonomic issues. The following steps will help you address each risk factor and put them in perspective as part of a total package. Too many times ergonomic issued are isolated, focusing ONLY on one part of the body rather than the total person.

Five steps to improve posture

#1 Sitting. Achieving and working in a healthy seated posture is the most important element for computer operator and simply purchasing an “ergonomic’ chair does ensure this. Most people sit poorly, particularly leaning forward, with the legs tucked under the seat pan and head in front of torso. Sit back in thee chair and adjust the lumbar to feel firm against the lower back. Lock out or reduce any rocking feature with the keyboarding. Adjust the chair so that the thighs are parallel to the floor with the feet firmly on the floor, slightly in front of the knees. (If you find yourself to low, utilize a footrest and raise your chair). Additionally there should be a gap (From 3 fingers to a fist distance) from the back of your knees to the front edge of the chair. You should know be seated back in the chair, with your palms resting on your lap and body weight dispersed on the feet, buttocks, lumbar and palms. These are all strong parts of the body that can support an individual when resting.

#2  Keyboarding. A computer operator should almost always use an adjustable keyboard tray (AKT). Ideally, position the keyboard close to the lap on the AKT angled slightly negative or backward, raising the hands slightly from the lap so that the keys are flat or neutral plane. Use whole arms motions ( as a piano player) while keying. Minimize twisting and bending of the wrist.

#3 Mousing. The AKT should not just provide a place to put the mouse. It should provide the RIGHT place to do so. There are two good choices to do this. First maintain your proper seated posture. Use an AKT that positions the mouse not only on the same plane as the keyboard but in a slightly forward position. An alternative choice would be to position the mouse on a bridge that is positioned slightly above the keyboard, off to the left for a left-handed person or over the number pad for a right-handed person.

#4 Monitor height, distance and glare. Position the monitor directly in front of you and about an arms length away. Make sure that while seated, the top of the monitor is at eye level. This will put the center of the screen in a slightly lower position that will allow the head and neck to work in a more relaxed posture. Remove the computer from under the monitor if it's too high. Should this make it too low, raise it with risers or books. Position your desk so that light sources, such as windows, are perpendicular to the monitor rather than directly behind or over you. If necessary, use non-glare filters for assistance.

#5 Document Placement. Position your documents either directly in front of you between the keyboard and monitor or at the same height and distance as the screen.

What Does This Mean to Me?

            If you or someone in your office is having difficulty with their back or neck or complains of problems while using their computer or chair, it is important to have someone look at the environment and how the equipment is being used and where it is located.
According to Tony, "first of all, avoid catalog purchases and suppliers of only one manufacturer. Your choices will be limited AND you’ll pay too much. One size does not fit all and having a trained eye can help as people and work environments come in all sizes and shapes. Products alone are not the answer and following the above procedure will help identify and assess potential problem areas in an effective manner.  A visual workstation and equipment evaluation can be very useful in making correct decisions along with knowing the physical characteristics and job tasks of the individual." 


            Finally Tony concludes with "Unless computer operators incorporate low risk working postures, physical ailments associated with its use will continue to rise. This is especially true, as the computer becomes increasingly important to us in our daily lives. All injuries can never be prevented but many can be avoided! In addition to being a healthy decision for firms and reducing medical and compensation costs, good ergonomics has been proven to enhance productivity as well. It is a win-win situation for both employers and employees."

            Ergonetics, LLC is a resource company that specializes in improving the ergonomics in the computerized environment. Ergonetics works closely with leading ergonomists and other professionals and is one of the National Rehabilitation Hospital’s (NRH) back to work implanters for this class of injury.

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