by Deepesh Desai, CPE
Having been involved with the University of Michigan Table Tennis club, I recently noticed this issue while we were setting up tables for practice. It is a great example of bad equipment design – the user has to simultaneously press levers on both sides while supporting and flipping the top. Given the design of the table, there is no other way the user is able to perform this activity, but to assume awkward postures and exert high force.
Being an Ergonomist with what we like to call “ergo eyes”, I notice similar examples all the time at workplaces that I visit. A common response that I hear in these situations is that the user or employee just needs to be coached in using proper body mechanics, which has no merit. The root cause in this example, as well as similar issues at work, lies in the design of the equipment. My job is to engineer out the risk by modifying the equipment or workstation setup.
I don’t suppose any of you have similar examples or stories to share?
by Jennie Gober, AEP
I must confess—I don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I’m not a great cook, but I still love kitchen gadgets! As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, an “ergonomic” label on a product may not mean much, but here are three items that I consider truly ergonomic, and that help me in my kitchen:
- Right-angle knife. If food preparation requires repetitive movements, this is a great knife to have. It enables you to chop veggies or trim meat with neutral hand and wrist postures. Neutral postures are especially important if you’re applying force as you cut, for example, when chopping carrots. Check out this complete line of kitchen utensils, which enable you to maintain a power grip while working in the kitchen.
- Tilting cake stand. If you’ve ever watched someone ice a cake, you might notice that they use several different awkward postures as they do it, like bending the neck in all different directions to view all sides of the cake and “winging-out” their elbows as they try to make sure they get frosting where it needs to be. Consider using a tilting cake stand for this task. It not only tilts, but rotates, so you can easily access all sides of the cake. The tilt function enables you to view your work while maintaining more neutral back, neck, and elbow postures as you decorate.
- Step stool. Ok, this isn’t a kitchen gadget, but I feel it’s a must-have for any kitchen, and is very often overlooked. It seems like on those rare occasions when I do cook, I’m looking for a spice that only gets pulled out once a year, or I want to serve the meal on a platter tucked away on a high shelf, just waiting for a special occasion. A step stool will enable you to easily access all of your cabinet shelves, so that you don’t have to stand on your tiptoes to reach your great-grandmother’s gravy boat. Step stools also enable you to access items without having to crawl on top of your counter—always a safety concern! Keep your step stool within easy reach to increase the likelihood that you will use it when you need it most.
I’m sure many of you out there are avid cooks and have found some great tools that make your time in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable. What are your must-have ergonomic kitchen gadgets?
By Susan Shaw, CPE
Do you feel like lately they make “ergonomic” everything? A few weeks ago, I was at a hotel and came across ergonomic soap! Now, this sounded farfetched as I read the box, but upon opening it I realized it made complete sense! The bar of soap had a hole in the middle. This serves two purposes: 1) going green and 2) ergonomics. The first purpose is easy to see…a hole in the middle of the bar means less soap which, in turn, means less waste since no one uses the whole bar of soap during a hotel stay. The second purpose is what makes it ergonomic. As we all know, when soap gets wet, it gets slippery and then you drop it on your foot and have to bend down to pick it up. The ergonomic risks lie in how tight you have to hold a regular bar of soap to keep it from slipping and the awkward postures associated with retrieving the dropped soap. So the hole in the middle is the perfect size to fit your thumb and a couple fingers, making it much easier to hold with minimal force. Pretty cool if you ask me! How about you? What every day “ergonomic” things have you come across lately?
by Lauren Caris
If you ever find yourself in northern Ohio, it’s worth a trip to see the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont. The facility includes the museum, library, tomb, grounds, and home of the 19th U.S. President. On a recent tour of the Hayes Home, a 31-room mansion originally constructed around 1860 by Hayes’ uncle, I was impressed with the elegant furnishings and attention to detail. The home boasts nineteen fireplaces and a dining table that can seat 24 people thanks to 11 leaves. But the one item that stood out for me was a standing desk found in the library. President Hayes brought the desk back to his home from the White House. Our tour guide explained how President Hayes preferred to work standing up. It reminded me that standing while working in the office is not a new concept at all. For more information on this topic, check out our previously-recorded sitting versus standing webinar.
Image courtesy of Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center
As a company whose workforce is on the road weekly, we understand the difficulties that work travel can present in terms of ergonomics. So we asked each of our certified professional ergonomists for their best tips on working smarter outside of the office.
- Use a 4-wheeled suitcase. It requires less force to move and you can push it through the airport by your side in a neutral wrist posture rather than having to reach behind your body and pull or drag a suitcase.
- Wear a laptop backpack (on both shoulders) or use a strap on the back of your laptop bag to slide it over the handles of your suitcase to minimize bending over and the stress on your neck and shoulders.
- Always use the luggage rack in your hotel room to pack/unpack your luggage which minimizes bending. Do not put open luggage on the floor. If a luggage rack isn’t available, use the bed or a chair or ottoman.
- Use the hotel business center, when available. Most companies now have a webmail application, so email can be checked from any computer. This will allow you to use a full-size monitor and keyboard instead of the small monitor and cramped keyboard on your laptop.
- Hotel desk chairs can have limited height adjustability. Sit on one of the many bed pillows and even put one on the chair armrest to support your arms and keep a more neutral mousing posture.
- Use an external keyboard for tablets when writing emails. Also, save longer emails for when you can access a computer versus typing them out on your phone.
travel power strip
- Some hotels now include a lap desk (see image) in every room. This ergonomic feature supports a more neutral posture allowing you to sit in bed and work.
- Vary postures between sitting and standing. Visit the hotel’s restaurant bar after you’ve been sitting for a while. Many airport lounges now have raised tables so you can stand during your layovers too.
- Use task/reading lights when working in your hotel room or on an airplane. As nice as natural light is on the plane, it can put strain on the eyes if it’s not enough.
- Purchase a compact extension power strip (see image), as there might only be one or two accessible plugs in a hotel room. For laptop and phone chargers, retractable cords save a lot of space in your luggage, and they don’t get tangled.
by Winnie Ip, CPE
Though you can read a lot about motorcycle safety, it’s not often you come across motorcycle ergonomics. In my quest to find a new bike, I found a neat website, Cycle-Ergo, that uses human anthropometrics to help you determine riding posture (knee and forward lean angle) for any motorcycle or scooter. The simulator gives you options to customize:
- Rider Dimensions: Stature (height) and Inseam
- Vehicle Customization: Handlebar rise, Handlebar pull-back, Seat rise
- Additional Options: Metric values, Feet on/off ground, Center image on seat, Arm Straightness, Placement on seat (center/front/back)
Looks like the Ducati Monster might work for me after all.
Happy (and safe) riding season to all!
by Mike Hoonhorst, AEP
I recently read an article on CNN.com, Airline squeeze: It’s not you, ‘it’s the seat’. The authors commented on the battle between comfortable airline seating and the bottom line. There is no question that airlines are finding new ways to increase revenue and one way is to squeeze even more seats into an already cramped space. This usually comes at a cost…our comfort. Kathleen Robinette, who studies anthropometry for the U.S. Air Force, suggests that Americans are getting bigger. She points out that the average backside has increased from 14.4 inches to 15 inches over the past 40 years.
Who, or should I say what, should we be designing for? Interestingly, the backside is the only dimension where women are larger than men. Yet the airline industry claims they design the seats for ‘larger’ men. The current standard seat width ranges from 17 to 19 inches in most economy classes. This will accommodate most hips, but what about the rest of our body? Robinette comments that our shoulders and arms are the widest parts of our body. So even if our backsides fit into the seat, we find ourselves battling for the armrest or getting hit by the food and beverage cart as it rolls by. Unfortunately, even though we are getting bigger, airline seats will not. Airlines are more likely to be driven by cost, than by comfort. Do you have any tips for maximizing flying comfort?
Read Ergonomics of Airplanes (Part 1)
by Mike Hoonhorst, AEP
With the price of air travel increasing, many people find themselves driving to their destinations. And long drives can often mean sitting in static postures for long periods of time. What some people may forget is that vehicles can be flexible. It’s important to understand all of the adjustable features in your vehicle. Take a few extra minutes before you start that road trip to avoid pain along the way.
- Adjust your seat height so you can comfortably see the instruments and the road.
- Adjust the seat height so your hips are in line with or slightly higher than your knees (you can also use a cushion).
- Use the dead pedal to rest your left foot (and to prevent riding the clutch, if equipped).
- Make sure your feet can comfortably depress the accelerator, brake, and clutch without your back leaving the seat.
- Slightly recline the seat back to an angle of approximately 100 degrees.
- Adjust the steering wheel to avoid excessive reaching (distance should be a minimum of 10″ to the driver’s breastbone), place hands at 10 and 2 o’clock (or 9 and 3 o’clock) position to reduce the risk of injury during airbag deployment.
- Stop regularly and get out of the car.
- If available, adjust the lumbar support every couple of hours.
by Kevin Perdeaux, CPE
On a trip to Belgium last week, I had the opportunity to tour a large church bell tower, called the belfry of Bruges. An enduring 366-step climb to the top was welcomed by a contrast of cold, windy rain and the most magnificent-sounding bells I have ever heard. The coolest part was being up close to watch the 26 bells ring for an extended period of time.
The bells are part of a system of levers and wires that connect to metal clappers which strike the bells creating the sound. Known as a carillon, the bells are played serially to make a melody or sounded together to play a chord. What I didn’t realize until I began my descent was that the carillon was being manually orchestrated by a carollineur, who was in a room just below the bells. Although most observers were awestruck by his craft of striking the keys (or batons) that mechanically activate the bells, I was drawn to his height-adjustable stool. (Do you see the hand-crank mechanism?)
I laughed to myself at the irony of the use of ergonomic equipment in a 800-year-old tower when even the most modern facilities today often lack this level of ergonomic consideration. Does anyone else have examples of new ergonomic design integrated with historical work environments?