“Virtual Classroom” Ergonomics

If your kids are like mine, they do their homework sitting on the couch, the bedroom floor, or maybe at the kitchen table – once in a blue moon. If they sit at a desk in their room, it typically isn’t for a long time. That’s a good thing because most of these setups aren’t great ergonomically for long periods of doing work.

It is a completely different ball game now that the schools are switching over to virtual classrooms due to the coronavirus. Students will be going online for extended periods of time to use Google classroom and other web portals to do assignments, watch instructional videos and virtual lectures/tours assigned by their teachers, etc.  This is a different situation than getting comfy and consuming streamed media for entertainment or doing a short bout of a homework.

There are several things that we can do to make sure that we improve their learning environment from an ergonomics standpoint so that we aren’t adding physical stress (musculoskeletal) to the emotional stress of this situation.  These fixes may not be ergonomically perfect, but we need to work with what we have available to us.

  • Don’t have a laptop stand? Find some books to stack underneath your ipad or laptop to get it to a better height.

savannah ipad before and after

(There are a couple of changes between photos.  In the after photo (right), the chair seat has been elevated and the feet are supported on a shoebox.  The ipad is lifted on books to help improve the viewing angle.  Note that the neck, shoulders, and arms are more relaxed in the improved posture.)

savannah laptop small before and after

 

In the after photo (above right), the laptop has been elevated on a stand to improve the vision angle.  A wireless keyboard and mouse with the laptop stand for inputting information.

  • Use a USB or wireless keyboard and mouse.
    • Don’t use the keyboard height adjusters – you want the keyboard to be somewhat flat to maintain a neutral posture at the wrist.
    • Keep the mouse close to the keyboard.  Don’t put it in a place that you need to reach away from your body for it.
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your apps – this reduces the physical demand on your wrist and fingers when using the mouse.
  • If they have an adjustable chair, set it to the right height for the surface that the keyboard is sitting on.
    • If their feet don’t touch the ground, find a box or some books that they can use as a foot rest.
  • If their back isn’t touching the back rest of the chair, use a pillow to help provide some support.

Additional tips

  • Use a timer to remind your kids to look away from the screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Have them refocus on something on the other side of the room to give their eyes a break.
  • At least once an hour, have them get up and move around.
  • Encourage them to drink water while they are doing their work to stay hydrated.

If your child has to use the couch, there are some small things that can be done to improve their posture.  Have them sit with their feet on the floor and a pillow behind their back for improved support (below right) instead of sitting with crossed legs.  Also, move the table close so they don’t have to reach (it could be a little closer in these photos.)

tyler couch before after

If you have any questions about how to set up your student’s “virtual classroom”, drop me an e-mail at quin@njergonomics.com, tweet me @njergonomics, or give us a call at (732) 796-7370.

 

It’s Not Just About Being Clean and Nice Looking

It’s not about being messy or being neat – although one of these looks a lot better when the customers walk up.

storing wood

It’s about putting items at optimal heights for when a customer or an employee has to lift the items. Notice that the firewood on the right is stacked on not one but two pallets. This helps bring the bags of firewood to a more optimal initial lift position than trying to pick the firewood up off of the ground.

The power zone for lifting starts at just above knee height, which is about where the handle is located on the lowermost bundles of firewood in the image on the right.  Without those two pallets as a base, the firewood would be picked up from a less than optimal height (although, with some bending at the knees we can make it a much better and safer lift).

The firewood in the image to the left has two problems.  The first is that the lower levels of firewood are stored on the ground in bags that tend to spread in a horizontal fashion, reducing the overall height of the bag.  The second is that these bags don’t have regular handles on the top which can mean that the handle is actually on the level of the ground.  The use of a spare pallet or two and some reorganizing of the bags so that they stand with the handle portion of the bag in a vertical orientation could make this “retail display” a little easier on the backs of the employees and the customers.

Gary Vee, ROI, and workplace safety

In a recent podcast, Gary Vaynerchuk talked about Return on Investment (ROI) and the fact that ROI isn’t necessarily driven by what is spent but “is predicated on how good you are at it”.

This is so important in the area of occupational health and safety. Often, companies will purchase equipment with the best of intentions in mind – make the job easier for the employees and reduce the potential risk of injuries. But what happens once the equipment is installed and the trainers leave? This is an issue more often than not, on initiatives large and small.

Several years ago, I was doing an ergonomic walkthrough at a large retail grocery store. Towards the end of the visit, we were standing near the check out lanes. As we were talking, I noticed that one cashier was fairly tall – a little over 6 feet – but the cashier next to him was an older woman who was just a little over 5 feet. A few minutes before, the safety manager had explained that they had purchased adjustable monitors for the cashiers to be able to see the items that had been rung up. As I was looking at these cashiers, I noticed that both had their monitors set to exactly the same height. Despite the best efforts of the employer to provide equipment to make the job easier and safer, the employees weren’t using it. They did not adjust the monitor heights.

While filling out consent forms for a fit for duty functional capacity evaluation, a recent claimant repositioned himself in a chair in the lobby of our office that allowed me to see his feet. I noticed that one foot was in a walking boot. This was an unexpected piece of information. As I asked him about the walking boot, I learned that he had been working modified duty in the boot which was for treatment for a significant medical issue related to his foot. Both the condition and the walking boot required a quick call to the employer who he had not told about the walking boot. This employer provides safety shoes for their employees as it is a safety requirement for the position. Due to the fact that the walking boot was black as were the issued safety shoes, nobody had noticed the walking boot. A quick routine check of PPE when supervisors meet with employees throughout the day/week would have resolved this issue which could have resulted in greater medical issues for the employee.

For any project, whether it is a safety initiative such as safety equipment or equipment modifications or programs such as post-offer pre-employment or return to work testing, it all comes down to how good you are the program that you are putting in place. This requires constantly paying attention to how the program is running. Are supervisors making sure that employees are following safety guidelines? Are you making sure that your post-offer physical ability testing or return to work programs are based on accurate job descriptions? When developing a new safety initiative, make sure that you include follow-up and oversight in your planning to ensure that you get the ROI that you are expecting.

**  For those looking for the specific podcast, it is the December 4, 2019 episode entitled “You’re Not Going To Know Where To Start”

 

Nike’s Marathon Fail – What Can We Learn

Over the past weekend, the culmination of Nike’s project to break 2 hours for the marathon distance came up just 24 seconds short.   The current world record for the marathon distance was set in 2014 by Dennis Kimetto when he ran a 2:02:57 to win the Berlin marathon.

Nike spent an incredible amount of resources in time, technology, and human capital in order to make this attempt.  While they were beat by the clock, they were successful in designing the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite.  A shoe that is 4% more energy efficient than any other shoe on the market – a running shoe so good that at least one runner who had the opportunity to train and race in it began to have nightmares that people were coming to take it away from her.

There are some important lessons that can be taken from Nike’s attempt:

  • Testing is important, but it is not everything.  Nike used a treadmill test developed by Andy Jones, PhD, a sports physiologist who identified Paula Radcliffe’s marathon potential, to help identify their potential record breaking runners.  However, Eliud Kipchoge’s potential on the treadmill test protocol was not as promising – because it was only the second time he had ever run on a treadmill.  There is a reason why physical abilities testing is not supposed to include tasks that can be performed better by those that are skilled than those that are novices.
  • Just because it improves performance doesn’t mean it works #1 – Nike left no stone unturned in their pursuit to find the performance gains necessary to break 2 hours.  One of the tweaks involved using webbed shirts that created a sling to support the arms while running.  This helped to improve performance but runners did not like the feel as they felt like they had T-Rex arms.  That’s great that something improves performance, but if it doesn’t “work” for the worker, it doesn’t work.
  • Just because it improves performance doesn’t mean it works #2 – Nike experimented with track spikes for improved performance and they also experimented with taking away anything that wasn’t needed.  The shoes were incredibly light, but unwearable.  This drove Nike’s team to try to design what they termed the “right weight” shoe.  Tools and processes should be designed to fit the task and the workers performing the task – the best tool or process takes both of these into consideration.
  • Use what you’ve learned from other areas – Back in the days of Nike’s affiliation with Lance Armstrong and his chase of Tour de France titles, Nike and Trek created the F1 project that looked at the different variables that created minor amounts of drag, such as where the race number is placed on the cycling jersey.  Nike applied these techniques to the running uniforms as well as the formation of the pacers to help reduce fatigue in the racers created by breaking their own wind.  Don’t reinvent the wheel, see what has been learned in other areas that applies to the task at hand.
  • You can’t control all of the variables –  Nike controlled as many variables as possible down to the track, pacers, etc.  The one set of variables that they had no control over was the weather.  In a task where they were trying to shave 2.4% off of the world record time, every variable matters.  The optimal temperature for the event had been determined to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower with a humidity of 70%. Race day temperature on the track was 53 degrees with 79% humidity.  Three degrees doesn’t seem like much, but it was a six percent difference in the wrong direction from the optimal temperature.   We can control what we can and have to deal with the rest as it happens. Also, when dealing with people performing labor oriented tasks whether inside or outside, what would seem like small differences in temperature can make a huge difference in task performance.

It will be interesting to see how Nike applies the lessons that they have learned from this attempt to future attempts at breaking the record.  I hope that they make another attempt in the future.

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.