From the Archives: Readings in Ergonomics
Later this month, AIHA University will hold a webinar on how the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risks of musculoskeletal injuries and strategies for preventing them. Presented by Laura Carpino, a clinical exercise physiologist at the HPMC Occupational Medical Services clinic in Richland, Washington, the webinar will address lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic, such as working from home, that correlate with increased sedentary behaviors.
As several articles in The Synergist have made clear, sedentary living was on the rise well before the pandemic. For those interested in attending the AIHAU webinar, the following articles may serve as useful background information.
OEHS professionals who have returned to (or never left) the office may be pleased to rediscover this article by Stephanie Lynch from the May 2015 issue. Lynch offers practical suggestions for setting up workstations with good ergonomics in mind and encourages alternating between sitting and standing for work during the day. The article discusses low-tech solutions such as setting reminders to stand periodically and holding meetings while walking as well as then-new developments such as active workstations equipped with treadmills, pedals, and other apparatuses that encourage movement. “Whatever you choose to do, remember that there is no perfect posture and that the next position is the best position,” Lynch writes. “Make an effort to shift your position slightly in your chair to change any pressure points. It will eventually become habit.”
In the May 2017 issue, Marjorie Werrell and Cathy White took a longer look at sit-stand workstations, including the manufactured table-top units as well as low-tech, ad hoc setups. The authors noted that workers seeking to change their position could place their keyboard and mouse on a box that raises the equipment to standing elbow height. For some of the manufactured table-top devices, the authors identified potential problems including a tendency to shake while the user is typing and a lack of adjustment options for monitors. Echoing Lynch, the authors write, “It’s important to recognize that your best position is your next position. A sit-stand workstation is no good if the user doesn’t change positions frequently.”
This article from the January 2020 issue takes a critical view of active workstations, including treadmill and cycle desks, “chairs” that double as exercise balls, and sit-stand workstations. The authors note that no standards currently exist for such equipment. In the authors’ view, research on the purported benefits of this equipment suggests that it is neither an effective substitute for running or strength training nor conducive to increasing productivity at work. The article also argues that using the equipment may require non-neutral postures, which potentially increases ergonomic risk, and that its introduction into the office environment has hidden costs such as requiring modifications to the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems to account for additional heat load produced by exercising workers. “The bottom line is that definitive benefits from the use of exercise equipment as office furniture have yet to materialize,” the authors conclude. “Research suggests that such use results in limited energy expenditure and frequently in diminished work performance.”
The AIHAU webinar “The Effects of the Pandemic on Physical Activity and Strategies to Prevent MSDs” will be held on June 23 from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. More information is available on the AIHA website.