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Ergonomics & OSHA

Ergonomics is described as the dynamic relationship between a worker and a workstation environment. The interaction between a worker and repetitive tasks performed at a workstation, could ultimately determine whether that worker will develop some form of musculoskeletal disorder.

In the early 1990s, OSHA identified workplace ergonomics as a key factor in reducing the quantity and severity of musculoskeletal disorders associated with repetitive tasks and poorly designed workstations. For 10 years, OSHA conducted exhaustive interviews, workplace evaluations, and open congressional hearings to ultimately promulgate a set of ergonomics standards designed to hold employers accountable for implementing workstation ergonomics. This rule which was approved by the Clinton administration, was subsequently squashed by the Bush administration shortly after that administration assumed power.

Politics aside, OSHA has continued to work in the direction of sensible workstation - workplace ergonomics because the very ideal of providing a healthy and safe workplace environment has not abated. Many companies and organizations throughout the United States have voluntarily complied with OSHA recommendations that are not subject to legal enforcement. Although the ultimate cost of ergonomics compliance was a hotly debated issue, many businesses and professional organizations have come to realize that a dwindling quality labor pool will put severe pressure on corporate productivity in the years to come. As a result, these forward thinking organizations are taking necessary steps to implement sound, ergonomic policies to protect the health and well being of their human resources.

Of particular interest to OSHA during the investigation of this major workplace dilemma, was the interaction of clerical and other computer operators with computer workstations. Two areas of major concern are: musculoskeletal disorders involving back pain and shoulder pain, as well as the imminent danger of carpal tunnel syndrome. Prolonged use of the keyboard and the mouse in a corporate environment can hasten the onset of these disorders.

There are a number of factors to take into consideration when designing a computer workstation. A little knowledge of the principles of ergonomics, how people interact safely and efficiently with machines and their work environment, can save a lot of discomfort and maximize both productivity and enjoyment.

  • Keyboard - Be sure to get the height right to prevent too much bend at the wrist and allow the forearm to have some support. The arms should hang loose to prevent the shoulder muscles from cramping. Many keyboards can tilt; unfortunately, most of them tilt the wrong way. If any thing the keyboard should tilt to help the wrist stay straight, which is to say raising the space bar end and lowering the "top"(the F1, F2 etc.) end. Tilting the key board the other way, (space bar lower and "top" row higher) can predispose you to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Mouse - The continual clicking and small, precise motions involved in mouse use are a repetitive action that can be a health hazard. A few basic rules can help make handling this convenient input devise safer and more comfortable:
Hold the mouse loosely. "White knuckling" the mouse creates too much tension. Use a light touch when you click.
Use you whole arm and shoulder to move the mouse, not just your wrist. Don't rest your forearm on the desk while you move the mouse.
Do not lift your "pinkie", use all of your fingers to lightly hold the mouse.
Keep your wrist relaxed and neutral, not bent. The click button should be about the same height as your keyboard.
Avoid prolonged postures. Rotate your shoulders, gently shake your hands and fingers four or five times per hour.
Left handers should use a "left handed" mouse, or configure the mouse to work best with their different (mirror image) hand shape.









  • Desks - Make enough space so that you have room to work, especially if your pushing your mouse around. Use a paper holder to keep letters or books semi-vertical and at eye level. Your work space should be set up so that you need not twist your neck. Documents should be positioned at the same height and next to the VDT, especially if a lot of time is to be spent at these tasks. Make your work space user friendly.
  • Video Terminals. - as computer equipment is upgraded companies are urged to employ LCD terminals were possible. If you are still working with older CRTs, make sure you keep your distance to reduce the amount of Electromagnetic radiation. We generally recommend at least a good 30 inches should be maintained.
  • Seating - chair manufacturers are paying close attention to the needs of computer users, with the result that employers have a wide range of choices in selecting the proper seating arrangement for their employees. Particular care should be bought to concerns about the adjustment capabilities of the seating. Chair adjustments should include proper adjustment for lumbar support for the back.
  • Desk/workstation configurations - Pay close attention to the actual configuration and height of the workstation.

The Speech Recognition Solution

To mitigate the impending danger of musculoskeletal disorders including carpal tunnel syndrome, businesses and professional organizations should evaluate the cost benefit potential of employing speech recognition solutions. The proper implementation of this technology will dramatically reduce dependence on the use of the keyboard and the mouse. In some cases, workers have been able to cut their dependence on the keyboard/mouse by as much as 85%.

For data input operators and professionals who are experiencing onsets of musculoskeletal disorders, speech recognition might be the only available option to keep them productive in a corporate environment.

In order to fully maximize the potential of speech recognition technologies, companies should only look to professionals who are certified by companies such as Scansoft. Speech recognition software that can be purchased in a retail setting does not generally have the application features to truly offer a viable solution. Only the professional series of Dragon NaturallySpeaking has the necessary ingredients i.e. the vocabulary and speech macro command capability.

Accudata Systems, a Nuance partner, has been certified to sell, train, and support the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional series of products.

For more information regarding Accudata System's training and support, call:


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