Monday, June 23, 2008

Living Well: Get the most out of life with improved ergonomics

Design and preventive ergonomics ...

"When Joe Small finished his football career at the University of Washington, he walked off with great memories and a bad back. But 26 years in the ergonomic furniture business -- especially chairs -- has done wonders for Small's football injury.

"I haven't needed to see my chiropractor for the injury in eight years," said Small, whose Seattle-based business, Ebony Office Interiors, has major contracts with The Boeing Co., the city of Seattle and the UW among other clients. "I go to the chiropractor for regular adjustments, but not for any back problems."

A major reason? Small says it's his Neutral Posture office chair. In his case, it's the 8600 model, which allows for up to 12 personal adjustments including tilt angle (to position the separate seat and back for even weight distribution), tilt tension (allowing you to rock gently, say, while talking on the phone) and adjustable forward tilt (to assure proper blood flow to your lower body during forward-leaning tasks).

"One of the things people most need to know is the way you feel in the morning is not necessarily the way you feel in the afternoon or evening," said Small. "Your goal is uninterrupted comfort. I like that adjustment that allows for rocking during phone calls."

Small's business never sells a chair without the customer trying it for five or six working days at the office. He and his staff are serious about both customer satisfaction and the discipline of ergonomics.

You likely have particular thoughts upon hearing the term "ergonomics." Alan Hedge, a long-term Ph.D. researcher in the field and Cornell University professor, explains that "in North America, especially the 1990s, ergonomics regrettably became publicly synonymous with injury prevention."

He says that characterization resulted in opposition to ergonomics and, worse, a view that the discipline is "reactive" and "rehabilitative."

Hedge will detail his thoughts as a keynote speaker at a regional Human Factors and Ergonomics Society symposium in Seattle in September (pshfes.org/symposium.htm). What Hedge and colleagues are eager to explain is that ergonomics is more than rehabbing or a checklist of how to best sit in front of a computer.

For instance, ergonomics can be applied to mental processes to gauge workers' stress levels, decision-making load or capability to be trained, among other factors. Organizational ergonomics considers such matters as how groups communicate, start-stop-break times and, these days, the budding phenomenon of telecommuting or working from home.

Of course, physical ergonomics still carries the day to help us all improve posture while avoiding stiff necks, sore backs, painful wrists and headaches among other office/sit-in-front-of-the- computer maladies. Many of us now expect an ergonomic chair as part of our office equipment and appreciate its health value.

Small said a growing acceptance of chiropractic practitioners as "part of science and not quackery" has helped Americans embrace ergonomics for all, not just rehabbers or that guy who guarded his personal chair (at least in one large newsroom where I worked) with handmade "DO NOT TOUCH!" signs taped to the back.

"Ergonomics has been around since World War II and even for the first assembly line at a Ford plant," Small said. "We just didn't recognize it or call it that. Ergonomics was part of designing a cockpit for World War II fighter pilots who needed to reach all of their instruments in a tiny place."

What's more, Small said, those pilots needed to stay fresh on their missions. The body can grow tired even sitting down; just someone who works long days as a software programmer or, oh, pretty much any NASCAR driver."    (Continued via seattlepi.com, Bob Condor)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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