Tips For Road Warriors – Office Ergonmics Part 1

“I never thought it would happen to me.”

How many incidents have we investigated and had someone who was involved say this or something like it?

No one sees it coming until BAM, they’re in the middle of a situation.  Sometimes it’s nothing and no bad consequences result; a Near Miss/Near Hit.  Other times the holes in James Reason’s swiss cheese model of human error align and something serious results.

The topic and related situation I’m going to discuss today isn’t that serious.  Given what I was doing….. I should have known it would happen to me!

Working at Home and On The Road

Many people like me either work at home or on the road in airports, hotels and coffee shops.  Some could call us “Road Warriors” based on all the miles we drive or fly.  Every day can present a different work environment.

As a safety professional, I’ve not only attended many sessions on ergonomics at symposia or conferences, but have taught them.  Together with Rick Johnson and others who have consulted here at CLMI, I’ve also written and produced a couple of dozen training and “how to” ergonomics courses.  That’s why I should know better.

Ergonomics has some basic elements that we all know:  force, repetition, posture, distance, vibration, temperature, etc.  My problem and that of many Road Warriors is how I sit and do my work:  posture…bad posture!

When I work at home I am either sitting at the dining room table or on the couch in the living room with my laptop on the coffee table.  First off, neither of these work surfaces are adjustable in any way, nor is my seating.  At least when I sit at the table I can pull the chair all the way in and limit my reach.  But when I work at the couch all bets are off.  My lighting is pretty good, so I don’t think there are vision issues.  But if I am working with any reference materials I’m forever reaching and shuffling to find what I need.  You get the picture, and it’s not pretty.

My Sore Neck and Back

This past week I was working on a lengthy proposal that took a couple of days to complete.  I don’t know about you, but I’m very intense when writing and drafting proposals, articles and creating coursework.  This intensity creates tension, and the tension results in me not moving as much as I should.   After 2 full days of sitting, intensely writing away and not moving very much, I was in trouble.  I realized that my neck was getting stiff and when I stood up my back ached!  Thank goodness I knew about reversing exercises that can release tension, so I did my neck and back stretches.  Fortunately I was okay the next day.

This episode helped me realize just how bad I’ve set up my work area at home.  CLMI recently released an office ergonomics program for mobile workers, so I decided to take a few minutes and watch the DVD online.  In watching it I was reminded how simple good ergonomics can be, if only you take a few minutes to think, make adjustments and move a bit.

From the CLMI Office Ergonomics – Mobile Workers program here are some tips to help all of you – Road Warriors:

What Impacts Ergonomics

There are three key areas to look at when deciding how to properly use
mobile office equipment:

  1. Posture – keeping our bodies in a neutral
    position which provides us with the most strength and the least amount of
    stress and strain on muscles and joints.
  2. Environment – creating work spaces that
    allow us to keep our bodies in as neutral a position as possible.
  3. Equipment Use – finding ways to
    interactive with the equipment that allows us to keep our bodies in as
    neutral position as possible.

Neutral Posture

A neutral body posture maintains the natural curves of our spine. When
we are in neutral, the head and back are aligned with the ears over the
shoulders, the line of sight is ahead or slightly down and the shoulders are
relaxed over the hips.

  • Think: Ears over shoulders — Shoulders over hips.

Out of Office Environment

Working at home, in airports, coffee shops, conference centers and
hotel rooms often causes us to sit in chairs that don’t fit us and to work at
surfaces that are either too high or too low. Even slightly modifying seating
and work surfaces can have a positive impact on keeping our bodies as neutral
as possible.

Chairs –  No matter where we “office” we frequently work sitting down. To
minimize back and shoulder pain, leg pressure and neck strain, choose a chair
that is the right height, depth and one that offers lumbar support. Your chair
is the right:

  • Height
    when you can sit back in the chair with your thighs parallel to the floor
    and your feet comfortably on the floor – sit on a pillow if a chair is too
    low; use a book as a foot rest if a chair is too high.
  • Depth
    when you can place two to three fingers between the back of your knees and
    the seat – place a rolled towel or pillow behind your back if a chair is
    too deep.
  • Lumbar
    , when you can sit back comfortably with your back having the
    natural S-curve – use a pillow or rolled towel for extra support.
  • Arm
    can also cause strain. If you find yourself leaning on the arm
    rests, lower them or move to a chair without arm rests.

Work Surfaces – Ideally the desk top or work surface should allow you to have a
straight alignment of your forearm, wrist and hand at your elbow height. Your
arms should hang naturally at your side.

When you can’t adjust the surface, try placing your work, laptop or
tablet on books, magazines or pillows to raise the height. If the surface is
too high, consider standing to do your work. In either case, remember to change
up your position frequently and to take regular breaks.

 Move Around and Stretch

Our bodies are meant to move. Even when you create a good environment
and use devices appropriately it is still important to:

  • Try to move every 30 minutes – change your body positions; stand up even when talking on the phone; and, stretch.
  • Rest your eyes – look up from the screen and scan around the room;  look off into the distance and let your eyes blurr.
  • Take regular breaks – get up and get a drink of water; short 2-3 minute breaks are all you need to release tension.
  • Make frequent adjustments – move your chair closer to the table; concentrate on your posture and sit up straight.
  • Listen to your body – don’t ignore discomfort and pain.

Summing It Up

When working at home or on the road it’s easy to forget about our posture and how we are working.  That’s why keeping these simple ergonomics Tips for Road Warriors in mind will help you get your work done, without the strain and stress that I encountered.  I hope this helps.  Look for another blog post soon where I provide more ergonomics tips on how to use specific pieces of mobile equipment stress free.  Until then…..