No, I am not going to preach to you....I simply want to raise the awareness of using our most trust friend, the computer, incorrectly.
Gadgets have become our trusted friend, going with us everywhere (laptops, palmtops, smartphones, i-pads)), doing all we ask of it (email, documentation, presentation, accounts, phone calls via VOIP, texts, WhatsApp etc). Our dependency on it is absolute – no business (or individual for that matter) can do without it.
But this rise in gadget use has come at a cost: our health, including increased incidence of headaches
The latest statistics from the HSE & TUC show the following:
- 6 people each day lose their livelihoods to Repetitive Strain Injury which effects the upper body – headaches, neck and shoulder problems, tingling hands and numbness to mention a few symptoms
- Over 15 million working days per year are lost to back pain & RSI
- Cost to the UK economy in lost revenue is over £10 billion
Today I want to focus on the PC.
Users regularly sit at their computers for long periods of time without a reasonable break I term such people Computer Athletes. Unknown to most people, such long stints at the computer can easily lead to injury.
We have 2 sets of muscles, postural and phasic, the former helping to maintain a stationary stance, the latter enabling movement. Both muscles are capable of fatigue e.g. all of us can feel the pain in our legs signalling fatigue, after the morning jog. However, registering fatigue in postural muscles is more difficult and therefore often goes unnoticed. It isn’t until an individual attends a bodywork session that he/she is told that some muscles are tight whereas the opposing ones are loose i.e. bad posture has slackened some muscles and adaptivly tightened others, leading to further poorly maintained posture….and the vicious cycle continues...as the diagram above shows.
So what can be done?
To ensure employees are correctly using their computers, a workstation assessment for every worker who uses a computer for his/her work is essential. In fact it a legal requirement for a company, no matter how small or large, to carry this out for any employee who uses the computer for work. It is a simple process but if employers feel it is an unnecessary one, they should think again: the cost of carrying out a workstation assessment is nothing compared to that incurred when an employee begins to take days off for aches and pains associated with computer use. This cost can escalate should the employee go off on long term sick leave with back pain and worsen still should he/she decide to take legal action against the employer, as is taking place in the USA and the UK. Providing preventative advice is a simple and inexpensive process.
Carrying out on-line assessments is becoming the norm but my clients who have had this done complain that it isn't accurate and making changes relies on the user knowing what is correct - this isn't the case all the time. Unfortunately, therefore, whilst this is a cheaper option, it may not be a desirable one. Therefore on-line assessments alone cannot do the complete job, a human assessor is needed.
At FiXme, we create bespoke programmes consisting of presentations, workshops and 1-2-1 workstation assessments to cater for the specific needs of small practices. This approach ensures consolidation of message and increases the chances of compliance, thereby reducing the risk of computer generated musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace.
Breaks, water and stretches
Going back to the fatigue issue, taking short breaks (2mins max) every 30-40mins helps to maintain flexibility in our bodies, which in turn reduces incidence of musculoskeletal problems.
Whilst people drink gallons of tea/coffee, they don’t drink enough water. The benefits of water include reducing tiredness and increasing alertness. Water aids in keeping muscles supple and reducing eye strain caused by constantly looking at the screen under artificial light – the addition of some simple but effective exercises can help to further reduce the strain on the eye
Finally stretching: in my opinion, instead of, or as well as, taking coffee breaks stretch breaks should punctuate a Computer Athlete's working day. If readers of this article do nothing more than introduce some simple stretching routines into their lives, they will substantially reduce the risk of getting back & neck pain.
Benefits of stretching include:
- Reduce fatigue
- Improve range of movement
- Better circulation and therefore better oxygen supply to cells resulting in improved concentration
- Stress relief
If you need any help with either carrying out a workstation assessment or with staff who are suffering from musculoskeletal problems then do contact me on 0118 9261464 / 07878 148 229.
All comments welcome...
Diksha Chakravarti is the Director of Fixme Ltd (www.fixme.org.uk), based in Reading, Berkshire. She is trained in ergonomics and has many years experience as a healthcare professional, treating musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) including RSI, headaches and back pain in computer users.
Her clinical experience, skills and training have enabled her to create a successful & high quality programme for prevention and management of MSDs, focusing on Stress and Pain. Included in the programme are Consultancy; Workshops on Stress, Mindfulness and Communication Skills; Provision of health focused workstation DSE assessments and self management tools.
She has written several articles which have been published in The Ergonomist, Nutritional Practitioner, TalkBack, Private Dentistry and the local press.
MSc Behavioural Neurophysiology; BSc (Hons) Psychology; Clinical hypnotherapy; Computer Ergonomics; McTimoney Chirporactic; Diplomas in different techniques of massage, including medical, deep tissue, remedial and
sport; fascial release.