Workplace Injury: An Ounce of Prevention Equals a Pound of Productivity

November 30th, 2010 By Jackie Larena-Lacayo

by Elsayed Abdel-Moty, PhD: program director of the Rosomoff Comprehensive Pain Center at Miami Jewish Health Systems.

With so much focus on the double-digit unemployment rate, little attention has been given to the millions of Americans who have been able to keep their jobs but are overburdened with pressure to perform. If you’re lucky enough to have a job, you may be doing the work of more than one employee, working longer hours, or dealing with cut benefits.

But you should know that research shows long hours sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, and talking on the phone – coupled with the stress and anxiety of failure – can lead to a variety of painful symptoms and disabling conditions, including ergonomic injuries.

And that “productivity” can actually be counterproductive – pain in the workplace results in an average of 50 million lost workdays each year.

But the good news is that making small and inexpensive changes to your workspace can minimize your risk of developing an ergonomic injury and harming your health and productivity. Here are some simple tips to address the most common factors in ergonomic injury: your chair, work area setup, and posture.

Choose the right chair. Your chair should have: a contoured back and seat supports, breathable fabric, flexible tilting, independent adjustment of the seat and the backrest, a backrest angled at about 110 degrees, sufficient width to allow movement, and adjustable seat and arm rests. Chairs that swivel are always preferable to fixed seats.

Set up computer workstations properly. Place your computer monitor at your eye level. Keep your keyboard directly below your hands, allowing for gentle resting of the palms and forearms, and make sure your mouse is placed conveniently. You can reduce glare on your computer screen by using an anti-glare filter, reducing overhead light, or shading windows. Always keep a document stand handy to hold any reference materials.

Maintain proper posture. When using a document stand, alternate placing it from one side to the other to avoid concentration of stress on one side of your neck. Try to maintain a posture of a 90-degree angle at both your hips and knees, and make sure your knees are supported by keeping your feet on the floor or on a footrest. And of course, don’t sit too long – get up to stretch, shift position, or take a short walk.

Following these simple guidelines, most workplace ergonomic issues can be addressed before they result in an injury and sideline you from work.

Elsayed Abdel-Moty, PhD is the program director of the Rosomoff Comprehensive Pain Center at Miami Jewish Health Systems.

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