Forget Flowers, Think Ergonomics for Administrative Professionals\r\nDay

Ergonomics training and equipment provide long-term benefits for those who spend their work day at a computer.

While you can''t go wrong with chocolates or flowers as a show of appreciation for your administrative professional on Administrative Professionals'' Day (April 24), there is one gift you can give that will keep on giving long after the chocolates are eaten and the flowers wilted. Consider giving a supportive back cushion, foot stool, wrist rest, new chair or ergonomics training to show your appreciation for the assistant who goes the extra mile.

It may not be as personal, but ergonomics training and equipment provide long-term benefits, helping employees avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and other workplace musculoskeletal disorders, says Judy Sehnal, CPE (certified professional ergonomist), executive technical consultant with The Hartford''s loss control department.

According to a recent national survey by The Hartford Financial Services Group, one of the largest investment and insurance companies in the United States, more than one out of three working American adults has experienced a musculoskeletal disorder or knows someone who has. Only about one in four employees has ever received training to prevent these injuries.

The Hartford survey found that musculoskeletal injuries were most common among middle-aged Americans between the ages of 45 and 54. Nearly one out of two in this age group had suffered a musculoskeletal disorder or knew someone who had, compared to 15 percent for those under 25 years old and 33 percent for adults between the ages of 25 and 34.

"The prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders among middle-aged Americans may be related to working long hours in awkward or static postures with computers and other equipment," Sehnal says.

Fortunately, proper training can help. Sehnal urges employees who work extensively with computers and similar equipment to participate in ergonomics training and follow these guidelines to keep themselves comfortable.

Posture is Vital - When typing:

  • Align your head, shoulders and hips to prevent back and neck injuries.
  • Support the arch in your back against the chair or with a pillow.
  • Make sure your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest.
  • Relax your shoulders - don''t hunch.
  • Keep your upper arms near your body and make sure your forearms are parallel to the floor. If you find yourself reaching up or down, adjust your chair or work surface height.
  • Relax your wrists, keeping knuckles slightly higher.

Comfort Comes First - Make sure your workstation is comfortable for working:

  • Reduce glare by placing your display screen perpendicular to windows and other bright light sources.
  • Position the screen so the top line of text is below eye level to reduce neck fatigue.
  • Adjust your chair or work surface height so that the monitor and keyboard are at comfortable heights. A keyboard work surface height of 26-27 inches (elbow level) is comfortable for most people, compared to 28-30 inches for a desk.
  • Tilt your adjustable screen to achieve a comfortable viewing angle and to avoid reflection from overhead lighting. (Or place a flat object under the front of a nonadjustable screen to achieve the same effect.) Keep the screen 20 to 26 inches from your eyes to prevent eyestrain.
  • Adjust screen contrast and brightness controls.
  • Place the keyboard and screen directly in front of you. Viewing your screen off center can cause neck and back stress.
  • If lighting is dim, attach a task light to your work area and make a special point of using it for detailed work and writing.

Exercise Helps:

  • Relieve eye strain by periodically focusing your eyes on a distant object.
  • Take a second to get up and move around to avoid remaining in one position for too long.
  • Take slow, deep breaths to relieve tension.
  • Keep the space beneath your workstation clear for leg movement.

The nationally representative study surveyed nearly 400 employed adults across the country. It was conducted earlier this year by Opinionsite.com, an independent online research company, for The Hartford.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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