Computer Ergonomics

Computers have become a necessity in everyone’s life. With increasing broadband penetration and last mile connectivity on the rise and the number of computer users are expected to grow at a fast rate in the coming years. But mind you, increased number of hours spent in front of the computer also brings with it a number of potential health hazards. People affected by health disorders such as occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are on an all-time rise. OOS, also known as repetition strain injury (RSI), is a collective term for a range of conditions, characterised by discomfort or persistent pain in muscles, tendons and other soft tissues, with or without physical manifestations.
Most of us do it. Some do not pause once, others take breaks. Yes, all of us spend quite a good time on the computer. But being glued to the monitor for hours at length could actually be dangerous for your back.

CTS occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. Approximately 3-5% of the population has CST due to repetition of motion needed for computing tasks. It causes numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.

A wrong posture at work may also cause pain in the neck and back, sleeplessness, irritability and anxiety. The serious problems could include spondylosis and severe back pain. A few people working with a data entry firm faced it and quite seriously. Used to chomping furiously at the keyboard for long hours, one operator complained of low-back pain the other day and had to see a doctor.

He was diagnosed as suffering from repetitive stress injuries that come from poor posture and typing habits. He was advised rest and educated on how these injuries could be easily avoided.
Up to 15-25% of the workforce is affected by posture and back-related problems at any given point in time across the globe. According to a study, over 500 million man hours are lost every year in the US alone due to posture and ergonomics problems.

Clearly, there are huge economic implications which practically get unnoticed in a country like India. Experts say poor awareness among the people and lack of knowledge among doctors about industrial health lead to such problems. Simply put, ergonomics is all about postures and their relationship with health. The science of ergonomics studies how people interact with their environment, and then figures out ways to make these interactions more efficient and safe. That means designing backpacks to put less stress on the back, or arranging computer monitors so that you don’t have to strain to see the monitor.

Experts feel workplaces should pay more attention to chair design and ergonomics so as to avoid complications. The spine should always have contact with the chair and the angle of head should be neutral. That’s the only way you can get away from problems like cervical spondylosis while doing repetitive work for long hours. In fact, people spend 8-14 hours in front of a computer everyday. If you do something wrong for prolonged hours, complications will arise.

In fact, ergonomics should be an essential part of any office design as this has a direct bearing on the health of the workers. Doctors say that if you have to do a repetitive work for long hours, like sitting in front of the computer, then you must get up for three-four minutes every hour and stretch your muscles because they can hold the spine for some time only. Centre of gravity is another important factor which ergonomics should look into.

Experts say that practising ergonomists must have a broad understanding of the full scope of the discipline. That is, ergonomics promotes a holistic approach in which considerations of physical, cognitive, social, organisational, environmental and other relevant factors are taken into account. One of the important goals of ergonomics is to design jobs to fit people. This means taking account of differences such as size, strength and ability to handle information for a wide range of users. Well, it is time to sit up and take note.