Ergonomics = Economics
If you knew you were at risk for a crippling injury and all you needed to prevent it was the right pair of sneakers, you'd buy the shoes, right? It sounds reasonable enough. The ability to walk is priceless, making even the most expensive shoes seem affordable by comparison.
Now change the focus from your feet to your hands. What if you injured your hands so badly you could no longer work at a computer? If you couldn't use your hands, you'd probably lose your job. But that's not all. What if you could no longer drive, cook, turn the pages of a book, or sign a check without excruciating pain?
This may sound extreme, but it's not. Thanks to computer-related repetitive strain injury (RSI), thousands of people can no longer work, much less open a jar of jam. And many of them ended up in this sorry state because they were forced to work at one-size-fits-all workstations, typing and clicking millions of times per year in uncomfortable, awkward positions. These people would pay anything to restore their hands to health, but in severe cases, the disability can last a lifetime.
THE PRICE OF PAIN
Considering these dire implications, why do companies put off outfitting their workers with adjustable workstations and proper computer chairs?
Because it costs money. By the time you get a good chair ($400 to $750), an adjustable keyboard tray ($80 to $300), and a telephone headset ($95 to $350), you could easily spend more than a thousand dollars retrofitting a single workstation. Multiply that figure by 10 or 20 or 200 workers, and you can see why employers might balk.
Compared to a single case of RSI, however, upgrading a workstation is cheap. Just one case of carpal tunnel syndrome (a common form of RSI) could cost up to $29,000 in medical expenses and $100,000 in lost productivity. Remember, if an employee is on disability, you'll have to hire a temporary replacement--perhaps for months. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates the average RSI claim costs $8,000.
The ranks of the injured swell with each passing year. According to OSHA, 2,730,000 workers' compensation claims for RSI (including back injuries) were paid in 1993. These claims cost $20 billion; OSHA says indirect costs may reach $100 billion.
In the end, RSI becomes everybody's problem. If people can't work, they'll rely on business- and taxpayer-funded workers' compensation, disability, and welfare programs. Yet as one exasperated occupational therapist complained, "Employers will spend $100,000 on treatment but balk at $500 for a new chair!"
TRAIL OF TEARS
If you walk through most offices, you'll see that critical safety elements--keyboard tray, headset, monitor stand, and proper chair--are frequently lacking.
Without an adjustable keyboard tray, you end up hunching your shoulders. When you raise your elbows in this position, your neck muscles must hold the weight of your arm. Put the mouse too high or too far away, and you get neck and shoulder strain. Cradle a phone handset on your shoulder while typing and you make it even worse. Career-ending injuries have been created this way.
Then there are the woefully inadequate office chairs most of us suffer in. If the backrest sags, your posture resembles a capital C, and you must thrust your head forward to read the screen. This position forces your neck muscles to hold the equivalent weight of a bowling ball in place. If the edge of the seat presses into your thigh, leg circulation can be impaired. If you can't tilt the seat slightly downward, you're looking at serious lower back strain.
Instead of supporting you, the chair confounds you. You must struggle to maintain balance and strain to reach your work. After eight hours of this, no wonder you go home with an aching neck, back, and arms!
Granted, an adjustable workstation alone can't prevent RSI. To avoid injury, computer users must maintain good posture, get appropriate exercise, employ proper typing technique, avoid overworking, and take frequent, regular breaks from typing and mousing. This, of course, requires discipline and control over the workload.
But unless you can adjust the workstation to fit you, rather than straining your body to fit it, the deck is stacked against you. It doesn't matter if you're typing for a few minutes here and there or just sitting and staring at the screen. RSI is a cumulative trauma disorder. Injury doesn't happen overnight--it takes months and years of keystroke upon keystroke, a click at a time.
Many computer users don't change their workstations until they are in screaming pain. But by that time, their injuries have become chronic. People are often astonished to discover that after-the-fact measures, from physical therapy to adjustable workstations, don't take their pain and disability away.
Companies shouldn't wait until the medical costs start piling up before they upgrade workstations properly. Look at it this way: The hands you save might be your own.
THE INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED AS MEDICAL ADVICE.
IF YOU HAVE THE SYMPTOMS OR WARNING SIGNS OF RSI, SEE A COMPETENT PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY.
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