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ERGONOMICS

Better productivity and a happier staff happen as ergonomics steps in

Ergonomics is good economics.

When the work areas are in sync with the people spending their days in them, there’s no time lost to sick days and no money lost to low productivity, says Hayley Kaye, a certified professional ergonomist with HLK Consulting in New York City.

Achieving that calls for attention to the desks, the telephones, and the chairs. But it also calls for teaching people how to set them up correctly. It’s of zero value to have thousands of dollars of ergonomically correct furniture that nobody has adjusted.

The elbow-wrenching desktop

A good place to start is with the hands and elbows.

For typing, they need to be level, Kaye says. Yet most desks are too high to the point that anybody shorter than 6’2″ has to sit with the elbows lower than the hands. Then to get the elbows up to a comfortable position, the natural tendency is to elevate the shoulders, which is a constant muscle strain and eventually causes pain and even injury.

The cheapest solution is to raise the chair and, if necessary, put the feet on a box or a ream of paper.

More expensive is to install a keyboard tray under the desktop.

And most expensive – although a permanent solution – is to get desks that are height adjustable.

The neck-breaking monitor

A monitor that’s too low or too high creates awkward neck posture and pain.

Appropriate height is for the memory bar at the top of the screen to be at eye level.

Looking at a monitor that’s higher than that forces the neck backwards, and pain sets in. And looking at one too low forces the neck to bend forward with the same result.

Because people come in all different heights, the solution is to buy monitors that have a sliding adjustable stand.

The shoulder-crunching phone

The problem with telephones is that people need to use their hands while they talk, so they cradle the phone between ear and shoulder. More neck pain!

A plastic extension on the back of the receiver “is slightly better than nothing,” Kaye says, because the head and shoulder are still cramped. The best solution is obvious: use a speakerphone or, if privacy is at issue, use a headset.

The back-killing chair

With chairs, the rule is take the time to adjust them, Kaye says. “Just 10 minutes doing that can affect the next five years of somebody’s work life.”

If there are no directions for adjustments, look on the underside of the seat for the manufacturer’s name and call for an instruction manual.

Chair seat. The seat pan should be short enough to allow one to two inches of space between its edge and the back of the knee. If it’s longer than that, “it can cause circulation issues.”

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