About Ergonomics

About Ergonomics

Angelique Martin
Angelique Martin

September 25, 2012

20 billion dollars a year - that is the worker's compensation cost estimate for Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) according to the Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Indeed, today's most costly occupational health issues are in the shoulders, wrists, and upper body.

If you are a software developer or someone who works on a computer most of the day, you find yourself sitting for hours on and perhaps prone to aches and pains in the areas mentioned above. The purpose of this blog is to shine some light on the risks involved with the simple sitting position.

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as "the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theoretical principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well being and overall system." Put simply, it's about adapting your work environment to the job and making it healthier.

I am certainly not an expert on the topic, but here are a few insights I'd like to share.

If you must sit, invest in a good chair

Your chair should be adjustable in height, provide arm rests, as well as lumbar support. OSHA recommends the following position to minimize the risks of RSI.

Source: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/
Source: OSHA - Computer Workstations

From your feet up, your heels need to be flat on the ground and your legs at a 90 degree angle. Your back should be straight and your arms resting so your shoulders stay relaxed. The line drawn from your elbow to your middle finger should be straight so as to prevent any bending in the wrist that could yield to wrist injuries.

But is it the best option?

Though an ergonomic sitting position is recommendable, new research suggests that assuming such position for long hours is not the better option. Sitting for long periods may yield to a shorter life span. For women, according to the American Cancer Society study conducted in 2010, sitting for over 6 hours a day correlated with a life expectancy 37% shorter than those women who only sat 3 hours or less. For men, the percentage was even higher: 48%. It is assumed that sitting for long periods prevents some important muscular groups to work and are at blame for chemical imbalance and occupational health issues.

So get up, stand up!

Standing seems to be the position that ensures better health. One more point for the male audience if not convinced yet: standing could be a better way to promote fertility. According to Sheykin's study published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, sitting, and worse, sitting with a laptop (including with a lap-desk), can be associated with increased scrotal temperature, which in turn negatively affects sperm count. So if you are a man who wants children some day, know that standing is a better option for you.

In conclusion, sitting too much is an integral part of our workstations in our offices, but hopefully, we will see more standing workstations appear as they promote better health and longetivity. Perhaps some of us even get the option to walk while standing, but that's for another interesting discussion. I will defer to my colleague's website on his view of the topic.