“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”

 

Friday Five – 8/2/19

The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product or research paper.

Diane Gyi et al. have created a new anthropometry data set for plus sized workers.  With increasing obesity levels, this new dataset is very important as many of the original data sets  that were utilized were based on measurements of military personnel.  A course from The Back School on ergonomics for plus sized workers was a good reminder for me that this category requires some different ergonomic considerations because there are some different biomechanical needs when setting up or correcting workstations.  It was also a good reminder that this category is not necessarily about obesity – the plus sized worker category includes anyone that is outside of the normative data sets, regardless of the reason why they fall outside of the normative data.  (When I originally took the course, it reminded me of The Incredibles when Bob tries to become a non-super hero, stuffing himself into the small car or into his cubicle at work).

Dominique Larouche et al. look at the issue of safe handling techniques for paramedics when transferring patients from stair chairs to stretchers.  One of the interesting points is that they believe that training needs to be oriented more towards the ability to adapt work techniques based on the environment and on the work teammates.

Joshua Zheng Rui Ting et al. investigated the effect of an ergonomics/exercise intervention compared to an ergonomics/health promotion intervention on workability levels in the office worker population.   For the general population, there was no significant difference in results.  But for a subgroup of office workers who reported neck pain (greater than 3/10 at start of study), the ergonomics and exercise intervention group demonstrated trending improvements in workability when compared to the ergonomics/health promotion group, if they completed at least 70% of the exercise sessions.

Peter Love et al. dealt with the difficulties in establishing operational guidelines for construction safety when the information on injuries is not readily available to use to set best practice guidelines.

Kaitlin Gallagher et al. noted that walking breaks can help to reduce low back pain that is induced by prolonged standing.   Walking and moving is something that I have been an advocate of for a long time.  Walking is not only great to break up prolonged postures (sitting or standing) but the overall movement is helpful for preventing other health issues as well.

 

Friday Five – 4/13/18

The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product or research paper.

The topic this week is going to be a little bit different – ergonomics and space.  I noticed that Mike Massimino had posted on Twitter yesterday (@AstroMike) that it was #InternationalDayOfHumanSpaceFlight.  When I read his biography, one of the things that struck me from an ergonomics standpoint was the section about the attempts to automate the final Hubble repairs but in the end, it needed to be performed by human astronauts – and they needed to modify/create tools to get it done.  So, in honor of @AstroMike and all of the other astronauts who have done work in space, here is the Friday Five.

Due to the fact that we perform Post-Offer Physical Abilities testing at Biokinetics, this first study is interesting to me.  Taylor et al. looked at 8 NASA astronauts to look at performance on a series of tasks to determine whether task performance can be predicted when in a weighted suit.

Hackney et al.  look at the astronaut as an athlete (it’s an apt comparison, similar to the industrial athlete that we talk about within the occupational/industrial health realm) and what can be done to counter the decline of musculoskeletal strength and endurance during space flight to ensure that crew safety and mission success are not negatively impacted by astronaut performance.

Walters and Webb used a NASA Task Load Index to look at factors such as physical demands and effort for personnel involved in robotic surgery.  The goals were to determine appropriate staffing levels based on workload to maintain efficiency, team satisfaction, and patient satisfaction.

Strauss et al. reviewed data from extravehicular mobility training to look at the injuries and complaints that occurred during training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory when astronauts were training in space suits to perform tasks and use the data to determine the best multidisciplinary approach to resolve these issues.

Petersen et al.  investigated a new testing battery to look at fitness of astronaut candidates for the European Space Agency.

29662686_1822044461181744_1514154722614260250_o

This is a shot of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum that I took on March 30, 2018.  Back in 2001, I was lucky enough to get to spend a short period of time in one of the mock-up shuttles at Johnson Space Center that was used for training the astronauts.  It still amazes me that the astronauts could spend the time in orbit and perform science missions in the crew space which wasn’t very large.  We were also able to watch some of the training that was going on in the NBL from one of the control rooms.  I’d like to think that the training we witnessed was part of the data set for the paper by Strauss.

 

 

Friday Five – 4/6/18

It’s been a while, but I am going to get this started back up with a new edition of the Friday Five.

The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product or research paper.

Kesler et al.  looked at the impact of the size of SCBA units (the self-contained air packs that firefighters wear) as well as fatigue (based on different bouts of work-recovery) on the gait of firefighters.  As can be imagined, there are changes based on both parameters. A second study with similar parameters by Kesler looked at the impact on balance.  A third study by Kesler’s team looked at physiological stress and work output – as can be imagined, the baseline fitness of the individual firefighters has an impact on these values.

Putting ergonomics programs into place within companies has always been a tricky intervention.  Visser et al. compare participatory ergonomics programs of a face-to-face nature and e-guidance programs to see how well they work.  There are some interesting findings.

Michel et al. looked at the collaboration in the return to work process in French occupational centers in dealing with patients who had chronic low back pain.  There are some interesting aspects to the communication between the different participants in the rehab process.

Hegewald et al. take a look at the data on technical devices to reduce musculoskeletal injuries during patient handling.  The overall finding is very interesting.

As we have had the discussion with some surgeons who are located in our building, the review by Stucky et al. on complaints of surgeons of work related pain and musculoskeletal complaints and surgical ergonomics is very interesting.  Of note, operating exacerbated complaints in 61% of the surgeons but only 29% sought medical treatment.

 

 

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.

Friday Five 4/21/17

The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product or research paper.

These links were generated during a PubMed search on the terms: ergonomics and obesity and using the new relevance button.

Cavuato and Nussbaum examined the effects of age and obesity on the performance of upper extremity activities.  They noted impairments in task performance due to fatigue, loss of strength, and discomfort during task performance related to obesity but not related to age.

Koepp et al. reviewed injury data from the Idaho National Laboratory which belongs to the Department of Energy.   In reviewing six years worth of injury data, 51% of those involved in slip, trip, and fall injuries were obese based on BMI values with a mean BMI of 31+/- 6.   This is similar to data from Ren et al. that looked at injuries in Texas which found a significant association between higher BMI levels and injuries from falls in an over 45 population.

DePaula et al.  looked into the relationship of loaded school backpacks and students (aged 10-19).  As 53 of the 339 students were considered to be obese, they provide the reminder that when looking at group data when generating percentage of body weight load for backpacks, the anthropometric breakdown for those in the sample group needs to be looked at.

Lerner et al. looked at a new marker set for collection of kinematic and kinetic data for obese subjects during gait testing.  The new obesity specific marker set was compared against a modified Helen Hayes marker set and found to have good agreement in non-obese subjects.  A significant effect was seen when comparing the marker sets with obese subjects.

Thorp et al. found that altering posture from sitting to standing every 30 minutes across the workday reduced fatigue levels and lower back pain in obese office workers while maintaining productivity.  They recommend future investigations to determine whether sustained use of adjustable height workstations affects concentration.

 

 

 

Friday Five – 3/31/17

The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product or research paper.

This week’s five are courtesy of a PubMed search on the terms: applied ergonomics

Manghisi et al. look at the use of the Kinect V2  (the newer generation of the Kinect) for performing RULA assessments to evaluate awkward postures.  Devices like the Kinect are interesting to me as they may allow for more natural evaluations of human movement in real life work settings.

Sedighi Maman et al. look at the use of wearable technologies for evaluating a data driven model for physical fatigue in the workplace.

JA Dobson et al. provide a literature review of work boot design and the impact on how workers walk(This is an important topic area that came up yesterday when we were in the field performing assessments for a customized job description.  The particular job has a variety of varied tasks with some that require steel toed boots.  The biggest complaint of the employees is comfort of steel toed boots for the tasks performed.)

Kang and Shin performed a study to determine the impact on accuracy and muscle activation patterns when target location is varied on computer touch screens.  This is going to be an important area for human factors and user interface professionals as touch screens become more common in the workplace.

Plamondon et al. look at the differences in how male and female workers lifting palletized loads with the same relative weight.   This study uses a similar lifting load weight to remove strength from the equation when looking at how the task is performed biomechanically.  While patterns between male and female subjects were similar, interjoint coordination differs.  Understanding of these differences can help with interventions to better reduce material handling injuries.

 

 

 

 

Friday Five – 3/17/17

The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product.

This week’s Five come from some of the newest additions to PubMed when using the search terms: ergonomics and workplace.

Shafti et al. looked at performance of work related tasks and levels of perceived discomfort (Borg scale) versus measurements from the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment and data collected from EMG sensors and electronic goniometers.  Not surprisingly, the RULA tool and data collected on muscle activity and joint angles were better at picking up small changes than the perceived discomfort described by the study subjects.

Khandan et al. utilized Fuzzy Technique for Order of Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS) to review job positions within a manufacturing facility to help determine which job titles would benefit from ergonomic interventions.  Often, clients realize that they have many positions that would benefit from ergonomic intervention but have limited funds to apply to interventions.  Tools such as this allow ergonomic professionals to better direct employers to the best application of limited intervention funds.  

This paper in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience by Nafizi et al.  looks at the muscle synergies that occur during slipping events.  Determining what happens in the initial microseconds of a slipping event can help lead to the development of strategies to reduce injuries during slip and fall events.

Irzmansk and Tokarski created a new method of ergonomic testing for gloves that protect and cuts and stab wounds when using knives.  One of the biggest issues with glove usage is that the design of gloves  can change muscle recruitment, usage, and fatigue patterns when compared to performance of the activity without glove usage.  Specialty gloves for butchers and fishmongers are designed to protect against injuries from knife usage hovewever they can increase the physical gripping demands of the task.  This study helps to better quantify these changes based on glove design.

A paper in Applied Ergonomics by Coenen et al. looks into the issues of “prolonged sedentary time” and reviewed occupational health and safety policies that relate to this issue.  No specific existing policies were found, however the authors note that the issue of prolonged sedentary behavior is one that needs to be researched and addressed.