CHAIR-100 Sleuthing to find the root cause
As ergonomists, we are always looking for the “root cause” of a discomfort – in other words, what is the underlying reason for the problem. Often the root cause of a specific work-related discomfort is clear, such as a poor posture due to a non-adjustable chair, and addressing the risk is a straightforward process. However, sometimes the root cause of a discomfort is not evident, and can require a thorough analysis of not only the setup, but how the job is performed. Following are a few examples of a root cause of a discomfort issue that may not be evident upon an initial analysis.
Many cases of neck discomfort, especially when the monitors are properly positioned, can be traced to a chair back that is not locked upright and supportive. This is because the torso will tend to recline if the chair back is reclining with it, and the head will be thrust into a forward position due to the righting reflex of the head as well as the greater ease of viewing the monitor in this position. This forward head posture causes strain to the musculature of the neck and upper back. Ensure that the chair back is locked upright, the torso is upright and supported by the chair back, and the head is balanced directly over the shoulders. The importance of a good, supportive chair cannot be understated.
Over the years I have had employees come to me with bilateral bicep and forearm discomfort, which ultimately ended being directly related to pulling oneself around within a cube environment by grabbing the front edge of the desk surface and pulling the chair toward a work surface. Frequent performance of this activity can strain the upper extremity musculature, especially on carpeted surfaces. Ensure that the casters are appropriate for the flooring and that work is organized in such a way that it doesn't require extensive shifting between work areas. Encourage employees to get up and walk to printers, back work surfaces, etc. instead of rolling the chair around large cubicle or office work areas.
Another factor that can cause upper extremity discomfort but may not be immediately observable or identified as a risk factor is repeatedly picking up the mouse. Although this can be attributed to a bad habit, the root cause behind the perceived need to do this is often inadequate cursor speed, especially if using two monitors. Increasing the speed of the cursor will result in less mouse movement, decreasing the need to pick up and reposition the mouse on a regular basis. This habit is difficult to break, but a larger mouse that is more difficult to grip and pick up can help as well.
Good luck, detectives!
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