Injuries stemming from computer use were a big surprise to me when I entered the health and safety field. I expected to encounter toxic chemical exposures, falls, cuts, eye injuries, amputations and fatalities. These types of injuries do happen, but at the company I work for, most of the injuries stem from “overuse” of the computer. Even more surprising was the cost and debilitating nature of the injuries. I have seen these injuries devastate a person’s life and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to resolve.
These injuries go by many different names like cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive motion injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. They build up slowly over time, and they don’t discriminate. I’ve seen young and old, male and female and all different ethnicities sustain these injuries, and often I find it’s what people do at home that is the primary cause of the injury at work.
This is a long way of saying that practicing good ergonomics at home makes good sense. I can’t summarize everything you should know in one article. Children for example have different exposures that their parents. Think of video game use and ubiquitous text messaging (by children and their parents sometimes). There is lots of information out there. I like Cornell University’s site. It has good information for children and adults.
With that, I will leave you with a few “ergo” things to keep in mind:
1. Posture, posture, posture. Good ergonomics involves good posture. Equipment should be adjusted to minimize awkward postures like slouching, reaching, bending and twisting.
2. Good back support is critical. Make sure your back is well supported when working on the computer.
3. Laptops are ergonomic nightmares. The monitor really needs to be separated from the keyboard to avoid awkward postures. Use a docking station at home.
4. Set limits. Don’t let your children play video games for hours on end. Have them take a quick break every 30 minutes or so. The same goes for you.
5. Adjustability is your friend. This is particularly true if you have a single workstation and multiple users. Footrests, height adjustable chairs and keyboard trays can help a workstation fit multiple people.
Andrew Peterson is a Certified Industrial Hygienist with over 10 years of experience working in the environmental and occupational health field. In addition to writing, he is currently the Environment, Health and Safety Manager for a medium-sized company that has been voted one of Fortune Magazine’s Best Places to Work For and one of CRO Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens. He lives in California with his wife and adopted pound puppy.