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Heading off workplace injuries

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Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 10:37 am

Working on a computer for a large part of each day can be challenging, not just with reference to mental aspects but in dealing with physical ramifications as well. You can find yourself stuck in awkward positions for extended periods of time, often without realizing it until one of the dreaded “syndromes” surfaces.

When facing the resulting injuries, there is more involved than personal discomfort. Productivity suffers as employees struggle through pain. Eventually sick time can be taken, and workers’ compensation claims may arise. The cost, both in time and dollars, affects the bottom line, so it is worth a look around your office to determine areas that need to be adjusted.

Even making one change can have significant positive results. For each of the following syndromes, start by focusing on just one area that can provide significant impact as you evaluate your current habits and determine if changes could keep the syndromes at bay.

Carpal Tunnel

Over the past years this has been spotlighted as one of the fastest growing injuries in the workplace. While it can occur from any type of repetitive-motion activity, the development of the computer keyboard led to a steep rise in its incidence.

Symptoms:

• Constant pain or swelling in hand or wrist.

• Numbness or tingling in hands or fingers.

• Difficulty with even small manual tasks.

• Problems sleeping.

Prescription focus:

• Keyboard tray under desk.

• Keyboard tilted away from you so space bar is higher than letters.

• Wrist and hand extend straight from your elbow, parallel to the floor.

• Palms not resting on keyboard pad while typing, just between stints.

Postural

This is now overtaking carpal tunnel as the most common workplace complaint. Back pain is so widespread that it has spawned an entire industry of specialists, from surgeons to chiropractors, yoga instructors and massage therapists.

Symptoms:

• Tension in neck.

• Shoulders slumping or rounded.

• Head thrust forward.

• Back pain.

Prescription focus:

• Sturdy, five-legged base.

• Casters to roll easily.

• Adjustable armrests to keep forearms horizontal while using keyboard.

• Adjustable height so line of vision is at approximately the top of the monitor.

• Adjustable backrest, lumbar support and seat pan to match the natural curve of the spine.

• Feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

• Ability to recline slightly.

Computer Vision

Just two hours a day in front of a computer monitor can lead to development of ocular problems.

Symptoms:

• Eyestrain.

• Blurred vision.

• Headaches.

• Dry and irritated eyes.

Prescription focus:

• Glasses designed for computer use to sharpen type.

• Resting eyes and remembering to blink.

• Glare control with dim lights, blinds, visor or anti-glare screen.

• Monitor at right angle to window.

• No exotic screen colors (black letters on white background is easiest).

Often your workday is full of pressure. When under stress, you are less likely to pay attention to your posture and other minor irritations. It takes awareness to vary your pace and change habits. The problem is that these injuries occur over weeks and months, and by the time they have hold of you, the habits are entrenched.

The more fit you are, the less likely you are to suffer from ergonomic syndromes. Take frequent mini-breaks to stretch or close your eyes. Get up to get a drink of water. Instead of spending your evenings surfing the Internet after a day sitting at your office desk, take a walk or stretch out on a balance ball.

If you are too busy now to take the time for breaks and exercise, you are definitely too busy to have to take time off to recover from chronic injuries. Be aware of the syndromes lurking close by and take measures now to block their incursion into your life.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Denise Landers is the author of “Destination: Organization, A Week by Week Journey.” She helps businesses and individuals accomplish more with productive office systems. Reach her at (602) 412-3876 or dlanders@keyorganization.com.

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