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Carbondale, PA
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Shaping the Way We Work

          A relatively new branch of science is having a great impact on how we work, play and live.  While Ergonomics originated in World War II, it relies on time-honored research in engineering, physiology and psychology.  As recently as 60 – 70 years ago, most products and machinery were designed without consideration for the individual who would eventually use them.  However, it gradually became clear that consideration of human and environmental factors would increase the safety and effectiveness of new technology.

          This evolved into the concept of studying human abilities and limitations and then applying that knowledge to the design of objects, systems and environments for human use.  Initially applied to the design of industrial equipment to improve efficiency and reduce injury, ergonomics is now applied to most aspects of our lives. 

          “While there is the potential for more risk when an individual is using heavy equipment or is involved with lifting, any process that becomes very repetitive can lead to discomfort and injury,” relates Joanne Romance, employee health nurse at  Marian Community Hospital.  “The employee who is involved in heavy lifting certainly needs to understand proper procedures for doing that job safely.  But there are also important considerations for those who sits at a desk and/or computer or perform repetitive motions throughout the day.”

          “Exercise plays an important role in preventing strain and other injuries,” according to Ms. Romance.  “Back injuries often occur when individuals try to move something too heavy or they do not use proper lifting techniques.  Exercise can strengthen both the back and other muscle groups used to support the back, including the abdomen and leg muscles.   The back is a complex system of bones, discs, muscles and nerves.  It is important to remember all these elements to prevent abuse and injury.”

          Proper lifting techniques support the back.  Bend with the knees, keep the load close to the body and lift with the legs.  “Whether picking up a penny, a small child or a 25 pound bag of pet food, we should always bend the knees when lifting,” adds the medical professional. 

          Ergonomics comes into play when an individual assesses how they are using or interacting with something and its potential effect on the body.  Many individuals work long hours at a desk, often using a computer.   When sitting, the body should be properly aligned, with the ears, shoulders and hips “stacked” in a straight line.  Chairs and work surfaces need to be at the proper height to allow comfortable use. 

Computer monitors should also be at a height that encourages good posture.  Monitors can also be adjusted to reduce eye strain.  If possible select a screen color easiest on the eyes, the monitor should be 18 to 28 inches from the eyes and glare can be reduced through use of a hood or positioning away from windows.   The positioning of the keyboard also has on impact on the body.  Try adjusting furniture to allow the wrists to remain straight when typing.  Typing with the wrists and elbows lower than the fingers is very stressful for the tendons and can put pressure on the hand’s main nerve.  Position the chair high enough so that your elbows are even with, or slightly higher than, the keyboard while you type.

“It is also important to take regular “mini breaks” and refresh ourselves,” encouraged Ms. Romance.  “This can be as simple as doing a few minutes of stretches every hour, with a special concentration on the areas of the body prone to stress.  Those at a desk can do some neck rolls, hand exercises and some stretches to release the stress of maintaining one position for too long.  The important thing is to change position, give muscles the opportunity to relax and recover from prolonged use.  Longer breaks or lunchtime give opportunity for a 10 – 15 walk that can refresh the mind as well as the body.”

 “Our musculoskeletal system; the bones, muscles and ligaments that support them, determine how we move throughout the day,” concluded Ms. Romance.  “How we treat that system, both at work and at home, can determine our ability to remain active and healthy.  The more we understand the human body and its response to various actions, we can better adapt positive habits.”

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