PORTLAND, Ore. Looking for a New Year's resolution compelling enough to fulfill? Why not resolve to improve your ergonomics, such as with a vibrating mouse or chair, or by suspending your computer monitor over your desk on a movable arm?
"Good ergonomics is great economics," said design and environmental analysis professor Alan Hedge in Cornell University's Human Ecology Department. Hedge claims that between one-third and one-half of all work injuries can be prevented by eliminating the repetitive-motions associated with them.
Repetitive motion injuries affect about 100 million Americans and the problem is growing, according to Hedge. Children are being exposed to computers earlier, thus setting them up them for injuries that typically take 10 to 15 years to develop. In fact, the average age of carpal tunnel syndrome suffers has already dropped from the late 30s before 1990 to the mid-20s today, according Hedge.
"By the time [kids] enter the workforce today, they'll already be primed for these injuries," said Hedge . "[Such] an injury can become life-changing. Carpal tunnel, for example, is not curable. They'll have to manage this chronic condition for the rest of their lives."
One of the easiest ways to improve the lives of computer users, is for IT departments to standardize on ergonomically-designed equipment. But users must also be educated, Hedge claims. For instance, a vibrating mouse is designed to train users to remove their hands from the mouse whenever it is not being used. By vibrating during periods of non-use, users can train themselves to rest their hand flat on the table rather than on the mouse.
"We found that this position is potentially even more detrimental, because of an increase in the static muscle activity required to hover the hand," said Hedge.
In a separate study, Hedge also found that vibrating chairs can remind computer users to maintain good posture when sitting, thus eliminating a source of computer-related back pain.
One of the easiest additions, according to Hedge, is merely installing a flat-panel monitor on a movable arm above their desktop. Not only does a hovering monitor give users more desk space, but Hedge's study found that users will tend to automatically adjust the top of their monitors to be higher than there eye-level, thus minimizing neck pain. People also change the way they show their screens to other people--moving them toward others so they don't have to bend in awkward ways to see the screen.
"This simple design change in screen adjustability has many potential benefits associated with it," said Hedge. "We saw fewer complaints about neck problems."
According to Hedge, IT standardization on ergonomics can pay off for companies in the long run since more than 90 percent of a company's costs today are related to worker health. Hedge also produced a list of specific guidelines for eliminating repetitive-motion injuries.