Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Several years ago, my barber injured his right rotator cuff. You may wonder how a rotator cuff injury to my barber has to do with an ergonomics blog. It’s everything to do with the title of this post – “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

At the time, my barber who was in his late 60s owned his barbershop which was truly a one man operation – think small town, old school barbershop. Woodworking, in particular making furniture and bookcases, was his away from work hobby. When he tried to catch himself during a trip and fall, he injured his right rotator cuff. While going through conservative treatment, he found that each day he could perform less haircuts than the previous day before the pain in his shoulder would stop him for the day. Being that he owned the shop, even bringing somebody in to work while he underwent rehabilitation would cause a significant decrease in his income. Thus, finding a way to keep working while dealing with his injury was the necessity.

Now comes for the invention. He put the knowledge gained from his hobby in woodworking to good use. He realized from both a practical and a biomechanical standpoint that his shoulder didn’t hurt if the person who’s hair was being cut was at a low enough height that their head was approximately at the height of his elbows. He spent a couple of days playing with seating positions of his customers to keep them at this optimal height, but realized that moving the customers around wasn’t necessarily the best solution.

My barber then realized that if there was an ideal height for the customer’s head, but moving the customer wasn’t the best choice, the next best thing would be to move himself. He experimented with a small stool to stand on but found it cumbersome to move the stool as he worked around the customer’s head. While the stool was cumbersome, it was easier than moving the customer around. So, the barber decided to build a platform around the chair. This gave him room to move around the customer while keeping the customer’s head at a comfortable level – and still allowed access to the chair controls to elevate shorter customers to a comfortable height. And most importantly, solved his necessity – it allowed him to be able to maintain his income and keep his business running.

The reason why I bring this example up is a recent visit to a new client. While observing a work task that has generated some level of upper extremity complaints, we quickly noticed that the work surfaces were at a height that required the workers to elevate their shoulder in order to generate enough “space” to perform the task. A lowering of the table heights would allow the workers to perform their tasks while reducing strain on their upper extremities.

Do you have worksite tasks that are causing complaints? Not sure how to modify the tasks to alleviate the problem? Give Biokinetics a call at (732) 796-7370 and we’ll give you a hand in finding the optimal solution.

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