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By Ann Hall, Ergonomist
Kids carrying backpacks? Check out these Ergonomic Tips:
Check their backpack every once in a while. In fact, if it feels pretty heavy, put it on a scale. If the weight is too much, find things to take out. Perhaps they don’t need to bring home every book, every day or they have a lot of clutter items that are just adding weight.
If they wear a backpack, make sure it fits them. Try on backpacks and make sure you have a good fit. Children should have backpacks designed for smaller frames and young adults should have backpacks designed for them. If you know that you have body dimensions such as a short torso, keep that in mind when purchasing.
Ideally the heaviest part of the load will be tight and close to the body, not drooping way down. Strive to have the bulk of the bag between the shoulders and the hips. Avoid letting the back pack hang more than 2-4 inches below the waist. The straps should always fit snugly to keep the bag close against the body and reduce swaying.
A bag with compartments is great, not just for organization, but it helps control the shifting of items in the backpack which can make the load become unbalanced. Best practice is to use the compartments to help distribute the load within the backpack. Make sure when you do this that you try to spread things out evenly, between the left and right side, and again heaviest items towards the back of the pack (side closest to the body).
Make sure the backpack has good straps, they are adjusted to fit the child and that the kids use both straps. Straps help absorb some of the load. Wide, padded shoulder straps help reduce the stress on the body. Be sure to readjust the straps to accommodate either heavier or lighter clothing during season changes.
Bags that you sling over one shoulder increase strain on one side of the body. Use double strapped bags that place a strap over each shoulder, not just one. Better yet, look for a back pack with both waist and chest straps too. Waist straps help to distribute the weight load and can reduce pressure in the shoulders. A chest strap helps keep the shoulder straps stable and reduces shifting of the load.
Coach them on proper use. Even if you have the perfect bag for your child, it is not a guarantee that they will use it the way you intended. Give them a little coaching when you see them over-stuffing the bag or carrying the bag using only one of the straps.
“Finding Neutral” by Karen Wollgast
Our bodies are mechanical miracles. When you think of the engineering that goes on in a simple movement like lifting a cup or writing a note it’s really quite amazing. In human activities this dynamic movement causes our muscles to contract to maintain equilibrium or movement control. As we move body parts, a state of imbalance is created and our muscles work to counteract that and maintain balance. The ideal neutral alignment can be described as the line of gravity passing through the midline of the body like a plum bob. This supported position puts the least amount of gravitational forces on the body. As described above, our bodies work to bring our position back to a neutral state when we move, but often in the work we do we put our bodies in awkward postures requiring muscles to maintain static holds that create fatigue and imbalance. Postures such as pulling your head forward to look at a computer screen or reaching for a mouse can create static holds of muscles that were not meant to maintain those positions for extended periods of time. Eventually this can lead to an imbalance that affects the whole kinetic chain causing pain, discomfort, muscle imbalances and may limit movement and range of motion over time.
In order to avoid these issues, we need to be aware of what our neutral posture is and remind ourselves while moving, or in static positions to maintain neutral and supportive postures as much as possible. The University of San Francisco, Office of Environment, Health and Safety describe neutral posture as:
- A position of ease for the body to maintain for a prolonged period of time
- A position that supports the natural curves of the spine and maintain your body in good alignment
- A position of ease for the body to sustain with minimal effort
- A position that gives your body biomechanical advantages to do your work
- A position where the stress on the musculo-skeletal system is reduced
Finding your neutral
To get a sense of neutral posture it is important to observe ourselves while both standing and moving. In a standing position view yourself from the top of your head to your feet. Are your feet straight and equally weighted on floor? Are they pointed out or in, do your shoes wear on the inside or outside of the soles? Are your ankles, knees and hips stacked? Are you able to maintain and support the natural curvature of your spine? Are your shoulders floating over your hips and ears floating over your shoulders with the crown of your head reaching up? If any of these pieces are out of alignment be curious as to why. Tap into your body and notice how something feels if it’s in or out of neutral. What happens when you pull your head forward of your shoulders? How does that feel in your neck and upper back? Slide your ears back over your shoulders, what dose that feel like. Lengthen up your spine and open your chest, how does that affect your back, your breathing?
Now take a walk and notice what happens to your posture, are you able to maintain those supporting positions or do things come out of alignment. When you sit down, is your spine still long and in same position as while standing? Are you able to keep your shoulders over hips and arms at side of body? While moving, are you maintaining neutral position of your spine while bending or squatting? Is there any discomfort in your movements or static postures that you can possibly relate to your posture? Does shifting into a more neural supported position relieve that discomfort?
These are all ways to become more aware of our postures and how they affect discomfort in our bodies. I encourage clients to be curious about why something might hurt. What might you be doing that is creating that imbalance or awkward posture? Can you relate that discomfort to an activity? What is it about the way you are doing that activity that might be problematic? Observe yourself externally and internally. Feel into your body and work toward supportive postures to minimize external forces such as gravity. Below are a few tips to find and maintain neutral posture.
- While standing, stack joints over one another with feet equally weighted on floor, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears
- While moving, maintaining that supportive position as possible
- Avoid long static holds of awkward postures allowing the body to come back to neutral support as possible, think of moving more dynamically
- Support repetitious movements with larger muscle support (whole arm vs awkward wrist postures) and micro breaks.
- Move, stretch and breathedeeply often.
- Strengthen core muscles, identify imbalances and work on building weak postural muscles
- Practice a wide variety of movement to keep muscles balanced
- Give yourself reminders to move, sit up straight, etc. until they become second nature
These are just a few ideas to help stay balanced and injury free in order to support the activities you enjoy.
The Cost of Doing Nothing
As health and safety professionals, we tend to be doers. We want to help organizations and their employees work safely, maximize productivity and well-being. For this, there is a cost to the organization, whether it be for services, equipment, subscriptions, etc. If we have accomplished what we set out to do, the organization can reap a hefty ROI in lowered claims cost (occupational and non-occupational), increased productivity, lower absenteeism and presenteeism, reduction in turn over, and many other costs associated with employees.
It seems pretty straight forward, yet sometimes we find organizations push back on investing in these type of programs. Even if we are able to personalize the results for an employer they may be hesitant about what they will uncover and worry that costs will escalate in additional equipment and a spike in claims as employees are made more aware and encouraged to report issues, the earlier the better. They may have put an effort into purchasing equipment that is not being utilized or is not providing the solution it was intended for and may think ROI is an elusive statistic they can’t seem to achieve. Sometimes they do nothing, keep things the way they are and go on about their daily business because doing nothing costs nothing.
But doing nothing means nothing changes, injuries stay the same or get worse increasing worker compensation costs. Productivity does not improve because employees may be in discomfort and working inefficiently, turn-over rates may increase and the overall employee experience may be rather ho hum. And even worse, organizations may have no idea of why these costs increase or even any tracking methods in place to measure important items such as productivity, employee engagement, claims costs, etc.
Fortunately, there are several tools and lots of data out there that employers can use to measure and track their progress. Many professional societies such as PSHEFS and employer’s insurance carriers and brokers can help organizations get a baseline of things to track and provide tools and resources to help develop a plan.
During a recent meeting with Rick Goggins, Ergonomist at Washington State Labor and Industries, he provided these tips on good starting points for organizations.
- Get a handle on purchasing. Make sure that solutions you are investing in are reviewed by someone who knows what they are doing and has an overall picture of the company’s direction so that, especially large purchases are not just being bought on a department credit card and put into use without proper review and training.
- Stop spending on bad solutions. Enlist the help of a safety and health professional to assist you in reviewing solutions that will be effective and can help with implementation.
- Provide training to employees on how to use their equipment, reporting processes for any issues they may be having and set an expectation on processes to follow. Show employees that the organization cares about their health and well-being and they are an important part of the team’s efforts.
- Doing nothing will gain nothing. Productivity of workers who are in discomfort is significantly impacted. Since the payback, especially in office settings, mostly comes from increased productivity, finding out who those people are in your organization and providing solutions can have a big impact on worker production. Even gaining increased productivity in 2 workers out of 100 still has a positive impact on costs and productivity.
- There are many other positive impacts that can be tracked as well.Employee engagement and experience, recruitment and retention are all programs employers are putting a lot of effort into these days. They are also positively impacted by effective health and safety programs.
When you are working at your workstation/desk with your computer, you might notice that your neck and maybe your lower back are hurting. The immediate thought is what did I do to hurt them? Flashes of your activities over the last several days run through your mind. Did I lift wrong? Did I sleep wrong? Did I get too carried away in softball or racquetball? Was it riding my bike?
If you spend more than three to four hours a day working at your computer, it could be the way you are interacting with it! You may be a Turtle! What is a Turtle? It is a small animal with a hard shell. Well that is correct but not really what I am talking about – completely. It is likely that you are leaning forward in your chair with your head up – like a turtle. This is a very common issue. When you lean forward you are placing a lot of pressure on your lower back which can lead to discomfort and/or pain. When this happens people typically also hold their head up – like a Turtle. This part of the posture can cause discomfort and/or pain in your neck. It looks like the picture at the top of this article.
The situation is typically easily corrected. Move your computer monitor closer to you! This action will typically “push” you back upright against the back of your chair and straighten your neck out like the picture below. Presto! You should soon feel the discomfort in your back and neck begin to feel better.
If you are working with a laptop you can add an external monitor plugged into the laptop or you can add an external keyboard and mouse and a laptop holder like the
Goldtouch, Nextstand or the Slimstand. You can find a number of them on Amazon.
Four Simple Ergonomic Steps to a More Productive Workplace
Paying attention to ergonomics pays off by removing barriers to productivity.
With any task, selecting the proper tool is crucial. The key is to understand the work process and employees’ safety needs. After identifying the likely risk factors in an operation, develop a safer work environment by carefully selecting the tools and workstations workers will use…
7 Ways to Make Employee Workstations Safer with Ergonomics
- Adequate workspace.. It’s imperative that the general work area is large enough for the individual to move about comfortably in seated and standing positions. Cramped, small office spaces can not only restrict activity but can cause workers to become stressed and constantly disturbed. Encouraging free movement with a sizable workspace will allow employees to stretch out limbs accordingly, preventing muscle tension and increasing blood flow, helping to avoid various short and long-term health complications.
- Computer positions. Badly positioned monitors can force the operator to work in awkward and uncomfortable conditions, affecting both their work-rate and health. Adverse effects of poorly located monitor equipment include musculoskeletal injuries (such as neck and back pain), eye strain/irritation, blurred vision, and headaches.
- Keyboard and mouse placement. The positioning of your keyboard and mouse should be built around the natural bodily posture. In order to reduce muscle load and avoid strain, elbows should be kept to your sides and arms at or below a 90° angle. Keyboards should, therefore, be placed a couple of inches above your worker’s thighs which can be achieved by lowered desks (or raised chairs) or investing in pull-out keyboard trays. They should also be positioned with a slight negative tilt towards the user, which you can attain using keyboard feet or stands
Ann Hall, an Ergonomist with Ergo Squad suggests that there are several things you can do do alleviate travel pain. An example:
1. If you are uncomfortable or in pain, take a break. Actually, take a break anyway.
Instead of waiting until you are so uncomfortable you can’t stand it anymore OR until you have crossed that line into the area of pain, take a break. Small breaks give your body a chance to recover. As reasonable as this sounds, many of us simply choose to ignore our body.
We don’t have time to listen to our body, or do we? Research shows that those who take more micro breaks, end up being more productive. Small breaks help us recover both mentally and physically.
If you are working in less than ideal conditions (lighting, awkward postures, repetition …) like on the road, you probably need more breaks than usual. Once you start to feel antsy or start feeling discomfort, your body is telling you that it needs a break. Ideally you would get ahead of fatigue and discomfort by taking breaks before this ever happens.
Here are some examples of breaks that can help you on the road:
1) Close your eyes for 30 seconds to a minute. Just give yourself a break from staring at the screen.
2) Put your hands on the top of your thighs and just let them rest there for a minute or two.
3) If you are holding a device and working, make sure you put it down and allow your body to just rest in a nice neutral posture.
4) Take the opportunity to stand up and move around a bit at least every hour.
How often should you do this? Well, that depends on your level of discomfort and the intensity and duration of your work, but I think a good rule of thumb is: take a small break of 1-3 minutes every 20-30 minutes. At a minimum try to take one break that is 3-5 minutes long every hour. Adjust this to fit your preference and work style.
A study utilizing investment simulations for 17 publicly held companies with strong health or safety programs for employees suggests that employers that invest significantly in health and safety programming can outperform other companies in the marketplace. The study, published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), is featured in a special section highlighting the impact health and safety programs
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM)
A study utilizing investment simulations for 17 publicly held companies with strong health or safety programs for employees suggests that employers that invest significantly in health and safety programming can outperform other companies in the marketplace.
Ergonomics may indeed have a positive influence on a company’s investment value. The study was sponsored by the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Integrated Health and Safety Institute.
Lead author Raymond Fabius, MD, co-founder of HealthNEXT, and colleagues studied the stock market performance of companies that had applied for or received ACOEM’s Corporate Health Achievement Award (CHAA), which annually recognizes the healthiest and safest companies in North America. To be considered for the CHAA, companies must be engaged in measurable efforts to reduce health and safety risks among their employees.
The authors tracked the stock market performance of 17 CHAA applicants or recipients with proven health and/or safety programs using six investment modeling scenarios. Companies studied had achieved high CHAA scores in either health or safety, or in both categories. Investment scenarios were created and analyzed for the period spanning 2001 to 2014, using a hypothetical initial investment of $10,000.
Listen to this quick ergonomics podcast and hear how Ergonomics programs effect employee wellness, turnover and the actual value of a company’s stock!
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