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Teamwork & Communication - Critical Components of the Ergonomic Process

Last week I had the opportunity to work with several injured workers in their office environment. Both spend 8 hours in front of a computer performing extensive keyboard and mouse work. Both are in serious pain with repetitive injuries that cause aching within 30 seconds of sitting down to work. Both have seen doctors, therapists, and had ergonomic interventions with the best equipment issued. One has already been scheduled to undergo a carpal tunnel release in the near future.

Speaking to and observing the work habits of these women has affirmed my belief that ergonomics is a multi-faceted process requiring teamwork to be successful.

If any aspect of the team process is impaired, recovery may be impaired. Communication and education are critical throughout. So is observation, follow-up, and accepting feedback. My observation of the two young women last week shows how the process can break down in spite of good intentions. It also highlights one of my ergonomic pet peeves the wrist rest.

Both women had wrist rests in place, and both demonstrated their typing skills using the wrist rest, believing that they were using them correctly and showing me what I wanted to see. Neither had received instruction in the proper use of the wrist rest and they were probably continuing to create inflammation through its improper use.

The wrist rest is not inherently a bad piece of equipment, but it is improperly named. Logically, because of the name, most people feel they need to rest their wrists. Most plant their wrists down on the nice soft surface while typing and feel they are doing a good thing - an ergonomic thing - that will help them prevent injuries. In actuality, they are isolating the work of the fingers from that of the upper arm.

The finger muscles are too small and weak to perform constant movement throughout the day. In addition, the isolated movement is often more extreme than typical to make up for the loss of positioning movement over the keyboard often performed by the shoulder. As the muscles of the fingers and wrist originate at the elbow, pain often begins radiating from the fingers into the elbow.

If ergonomic equipment is issued without warning, - Ive worked with employees who just showed up one morning to find their work environment changed and ergonomic equipment in place - consent, or instruction in the proper use, it will either be rejected or used in what is thought to be the correct manner. However, the equipment itself is not the answer, but only a tool that enables a worker to be safe if it is used properly.

It would be much better to call the wrist "rest" a wrist "guide" as the wrist should float over it. The wrist rest should "guide" the wrist into the neutral position. It is okay to rest down lightly during typing breaks.

Here are some additional ergonomic keyboard work-method recommendations.


Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.


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