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Ergonomics May Help Take the Ache Out

April 01, 2002|DIANNE PARTIE LANGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

We all know we should check our posture at our keyboards and take frequent breaks, but as the hours go by, gravity pulls us into a slump and the mouse pad tends to slide farther from our reach.

To help keep us in our proper places there are all sorts of pads, supports, cushions, even a mouse designed to nestle cozily into the palm. With all these ergonomic choices, one wonders whether anything really works.

Now, researchers have found that with training, three basic devices do work, reducing workers' complaints by 40% on average after seven to eight months of use. Nearly half the 365 workers studied had fewer back and elbow problems than they did before their workstations were altered.

The team of ergonomic experts, led by Alan Hedge, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., trained New Jersey office workers to use a negative slope keyboard tray, which is a keyboard platform that tilts downward toward the floor with an upper mouse platform that swings 1 to 2 inches over the numeric keypad on the keyboard. The workers also used an ergonomic chair that had adjustments for chair height, lumbar support height, back rest, seat tilt, seat depth and arm rest.

In a recently published report, the researchers said that before the training began, 84% of those surveyed had some musculoskeletal complaint. Only 6.4% of the participants did not find the ergonomics training helpful.

More information about the study is available at the lab's Internet site: ergo.human.cornell.edu.

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