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Essay/Term paper: Computer ergonomics in the work place

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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Computer Ergonomics In The Work Place

Business strive for high production at low cost. This would result in the
highest profit for a company. To many businesses, this is only a mirage. This
is because the 'low cost' of the business usually results in a 'high cost' for
the employees. This high cost is lower quality workplace items, lower salaries,
less benefits, etc. These costs create an upset workplace environment.
Companies understand that the more efficient their workers are, the more
productive their business will become. Although this will take lots of money at
first, the result will be extreme success. There exist many different things in
the workplace that add to stress and injuries. They range from lifting heavy
boxes to typing too much on the keyboard. This paper will be focusing on the
principals of ergonomics in the computer workstation. According to the Board of
Certification for Professional Ergonomists (BCPE), the definition of ergonomics
"is a body of knowledge about human abilities, human limitations and human
characteristics that are relevant to design. Ergonomic design is the
application of this body of knowledge to the design of tools, machines, systems,
tasks, jobs, and environments for safe, comfortable and effective human
use."(BCPE, 1993) In the average computer workstation, employees are prone to
over a dozen hazards. There exist two factors that can prevent this: forming
good work habits and ergonomically designed computer workstations. We will
discuss these preventions throughout the paper.

First, a few terms may need defining. Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) takes
place from the repeated physical movements of certain body parts which results
in damage to tendons, nerves, muscles, and other soft body tissues. If these
injuries are not taken care of immediately, permanent damage could be done. A
few common results of RSI's that were not taken care of right away are injuries
like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendentious, Tenosynovitis, DeQuervain's Syndrome,
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome etc. All of these are able to be prevented by the use
of good working habits and ergonomic engineering.i Usually, ergonomically
designing a computer workstation would cost about $1000. This expense could be
eliminated by the formation of good work habits. This is essential for the
safety of computer terminal employees. There exist a number of precautions that
can be taken into consideration when dealing with a computer workstation. We
shall discuss six of them. First, the whole body must be relaxed. The correct
posture is shown in Figure 1. Notice that the arms and thighs are parallel to
the floor and the feet are flat on the floor. Also notice that the wrists are
not bent in any way. This is one of the most damaged parts of the body when
speaking of (RSI).

Figure 1

The wrists, when typing, should not be rested on anything when typing. This
would cause someone to stretch their fingers to hit keys. They should also be
straight: not bent up, down, or to the side. The correct position is portrayed
in figure 2, incorrect in figure 3. Studies show that these steps are easier to
perform while the keyboard is not tilted toward the user. When it is tilted, it
is natural to rest your wrists on the table. This puts the keyboard at a lower
level, creating a more natural position. Another practice that should be taken
into consideration is how hard you press on the keys. The user is not supposed
to hit the keys. This may cause damage to the tendons and nerves in the fingers.
Instead, use a soft touch, not only will your fingers thank you for it, the
keyboard will too! Keeping in mind not to stretch your fingers when typing, use
two hands to perform double-key operations. For example, you need to capitalize
the first letter in every sentence, therefore, you would hold down the shift and
press the first letter.
Figure 2 Figure 3

This is a double key operation. Instead of stretching two fingers on one hand
to do this operation, use both hands. No matter what kind of a pace you are on
when doing work, take breaks every ten minutes or so in addition to your hourly
breaks. These breaks need only be a few moments at a time. If breaks are not
taken at this pace, you may be subjecting yourself to injuries in the back, neck,
wrists and fingers. Also, when using the mouse, do not grip it tightly. Most
mice that are used in offices today are not designed with human factors in mind.
Some mice, like the Microsoft mouse, are designed to fit the contour of your
hand. Although this may seem nice, it does not mean that one will be able to
use it for hours on end and not feel any discomfort in the hand. Other mice,
that will be mentioned later, are designed for comfortable use for extended
periods of time. Try to keep your arms and hands warm. Cold muscles are more
apt to strain and injury than warm ones. Wearing a sweater or a long-sleeved
shirt can be of great importance especially when working in air-conditioned
offices. And finally, do not use the computer more than necessary. Your body
can handle only so much strain on the neck, shoulders, wrists and fingers. Even
with the greatest state-of-the-art ergonomically designed computer workstation,
people put themselves at risk. Some people tend to use their break times at work
playing video games. This is a good way to ease the mind of everyday pressure
(to some extent). This is also a good example of using the computer 'more than
necessary'. If a person needs to use a computer for video games, take a break
every ten minutes or so, as mentioned above.ii All of these strategies mentioned
above are things that can be done to reduce injuries when using a computer for
an extended period of time. They do not include any type of ergonomically
designed hardware. If employees form these habits, there would be less need to
purchase any ergonomic equipment for the office. But, making new habits is not
the easiest thing to do for most people. Next, we will take a look at how a
computer workstation should be set up. The following data was retrieved by an
on-line quiz from the University of Virginia. The first question about computer
workstations poses a question about the seat being too high. This would cause
strain on the legs of the operator causing them to "go to sleep". Basically,
the blood flow to the leg and feet will be cut off. The next fact presented to
us is that the top of the Video Terminal Display (VDT) should be no higher than
eye level. This is one of the most controversial topics because it deals with
the neck and shoulders. Some people state that it should be below, but not at
eye level because our natural tendency is to look down. Thirdly, the best
viewing distance from the VDT is about 24 inches from the screen. This deals
with eye strain. Some people worry about radiation that may be emitted from the
VDT. Radiation is not a big problem with newer monitors. Even old ones have a
protective coating around the screen. This allows very few particles to go
through the screen. Even if they do manage to get that far from the screen, the
radiation goes inches before withering away. The eye strain is the important
factor here. Look away at an object far away from you if eye strain continues
to be a problem. The next question deals with the tilt of the screen. If the
monitor should be at or below eye level, it would be easier to read with a 10 to
20 degree back tilt. Many VDT's have a tilt on the bottom, if not, a book could
propped under the monitor to tilt it back a bit. Another question asked is about
the height of the keyboard from the floor. It should be elbow height. As
mentioned before, the fore-arms and thighs should be parallel to the floor.
This is possible only if the keyboard is elbow height from the floor. How should
the lighting be in offices when using a computer? It should be a bit dimmer
than normal office lighting. This is so because if the office lighting is
brighter, there will be a lot of glare on the screen. It also has to do with
eye strain. Noise in the work area causes fatigue. This may be true, to add to
this statement, it also causes the computer operator to lose concentration on
their work. Not only does noise affect our concentration and causes fatigue, it
obviously can damage one's hearing. Using this questionnaire, I conducted a
survey among students at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. The purpose of the
survey was to test the knowledge of the student body as to their knowledge of
VDT's and their safety precautions. In order to accomplish this in a
professional manner, a random sample of students was acquired. In order to
obtain a random sample, certain criteria must be met, too numerous to mention in
this essay. Needless to say, not all of the criteria were met for the sample to
be random. The sample size of the survey was approximately 100 students. The
results were not surprising. There was one problem with the questionnaire :
many students did not know what VDT meant1. According the survey, 100% of the
people was familiar with what ergonomics is, knew how to reduce tension, what
movement in your peripheral vision does, and what you should do if you should
wear bifocal lenses. This question posed a problem because of the way in which
the answer was worded. The correct answer is very specific, and sticks out over
the other possible answers. The rest of the questions were well worded and not
too obvious.

Besides the first and last question, there were a few others that were all
answered correctly. These were questions eleven and twelve. The probable cause
for this is that the questions were easy. The answers were more obvious than
the others. If you compare these questions to the ones that were more difficult
(seven and thirteen) the percent correct differ. Questions seven and thirteen
deal with very specific measurements that are all closely related. These
questions are not 'common knowledge' questions. I am assuming that people were
taking educated guesses when encountering these questions. This could be the
reason for the large percent of error in these parts of the survey. Now that we
have discovered the good habits to form when working at computer workstations
and took a look at what a selected college student population knew about VDT's,
we will now take a look at ergonomic engineering and the reason for its
emergence. There are a number of devices ranging from keyboards and mice to
chairs and even foot stands. In this paper we will just review a few of these
ergonomically designed items and why ergonomics is an issue to computer users.
First, we will discuss the purpose of ergonomically designed items. There are a
number of reasons for the emergence of ergonomics. One reason for this is
insurance purposes. Many companies have disability and other types of insurance
to cover injuries that occur while working. This would not be needed as much if
there were ergonomically designed computer workstations. It would save the
company insurance hassle and money in the long run. Another purpose for the
emergence of ergonomically designed workstations is that the injuries due to the
overuse of the computers are long lasting. These ailments do not just go away
in time. And one can not put a price on injuries like this. This is why
ergonomics is so important. Secondly, we will look at an item that effects the
common computer user the most: the keyboard. With computers getting faster and
faster every day, it is about time that people looked at the hazards they pose
instead of perfecting them. Keyboards pose the largest threat to the computer
user, not only because it is the most used input device, but also because of its
design. It is a flat, straight input device that can cause strain and injury to
the user if not used properly. Ergonomic engineers realized this hazard and
designed a number of different alternatives. All of the ergonomically designed
keyboards attempt to reduce injuries by studying the natural position of the
fingers, hands and wrists. By using this knowledge, keyboards and mice are
designed. There is no ideal position for the hand as of yet. Hence, there
exists different types of keyboards and mice. Figures 4 - 5 show different
styles of keyboards and mice.

Figure 4 - http://www.earthlink.net/~dbialick/kinesis

Figure 5

Notice the unique structure of the keyboard. It does not even look like one.
This may take time to get used to, but it will payoff in the end. Not only is
there hardware for the reduction of RSI, but there exists software to help you
reduce the RSI. Micronite softwareiii designed a program called ARMS (Against
Repetitive Strain Injury) Which reminds you when it is time to take a break.
Also, it walks you through a series of videos which portray ways to massage
different parts of your hand, neck, and shoulders. With all of this hardware and
software available for business and personal use, who would not be interested?
Well many people think that it will not happen to them until it does. People
should not wait that long. If you use a computer for more than four hours a day,
you are prone to RSI. If your company does not have ergonomically engineered
hardware, software or furniture, then do something about it. It's your health.

1 A copy of the survey is attached to the end of this paper. The correct answer
is bolded.

i URL address : http://webreference.com/rsi.html#whatis
ii URL address : http://www.engr.unl.edu/ee/eeshop/rsi.html
iii URL address : http://www.micronite.com/


CGI "Common Gateway Interface". A standard protocol which allows HTML based
forms to send field contents to a program on the Internet for processing. It
also allows the receiving program to respond by sending an HTML response

Email "Electronic Mail". An electronic document similar to a piece of mail in
that it is sent from one person to another using addresses, and contains
information. Email commonly contains information such as: sender name and
computer address, list of recipient names and computer addresses, message
subject, date and time composed, and message content. Sometimes, an Email
message can have attached computer files such as pictures, programs, and data

Firewall A program or device which serves as an intelligent and secure router of
network data packets. These mechanisms are configured to restrict the flow of
packets in different directions (i.e. to and from the Internet) based on the
system addresses (a.k.a. IP addresses) of the connected computers.

FTP "File Transfer Protocol". A program or feature popularly used over the
Internet to transfer files between computers.

Hacker A person who deliberately breaks into computer systems for entertainment,
gain, or spite. The most sophisticated hackers spend all of their time breaking
into computers. The risk that these people pose is that they often steal or
damage software systems and information.

Home Page A Web Page which is at the root of all Web Pages for a particular Web
Site. A Home Page should portray the image that the company wants to project.
Usually, these pages resemble marketing slicks, but with an interactive slant.
This front page of a Web Site then provides hypertext links to the rest of the
Web Site's content and possibly to Home Pages for other related Web Sites.

HTML "HyperText Markup Language". A standardized programming language used to
create hypertext documents. Used to create all Web Pages on the Internet. Also
allows definition of data forms which communicate with CGI compatible programs
on the Internet.

HTTP "HyperText Transfer Protocol". A communications protocol used by Internet
Web Service software to send Web Pages to Web Browser software over the Internet.

HyperText A type of text document which contains embedded "hotspots" which point
to other sections of text or other documents. Any piece of text or graphic can
be defined as a hotspot which points elsewhere.

Internet (a.k.a. "The Information Superhighway"). A world-wide interconnection
between thousands of computer networks on many different platforms, with over 10
million end users (and growing). The telecommunications backbone of the
Internet is based on a network of U.S. government owned, national T3 lines. A
growing number of Internet Providers are adding their own backbones.

Internet Providers A community of competing businesses which provide "on-ramps
to the Internet". The largest of these companies connect directly into the
Internet backbone, or provide their own national or international backbones.
Examples of true Internet Providers: Netcom, UUNet, CERFNet, SprintNet, and Spry.
Examples of partial Internet Providers & partial Information Service Providers:
CompuServe, Prodigy, and America On-Line.

IRC "Internet Relay Chat". A program or feature popularly used on the Internet
by individuals to chat with others, by typing and watching text-based dialog.
Many topic specific IRC channels have been created on the Internet by users.
These channels form a sort of forum for conference room discussion.

Newsgroups A collection of forums which gather Email from Internet users about a
specific subject. The collected Email entries (known as news articles) can then
be perused by all Internet users. Some are simply for recreational discussions,
while others may allow people to form self-supporting user groups.

PGP "Pretty Good Privacy" encryption. A protocol for using private and public
key encryption to secure Email and other Internet transactions.

TCP/IP "Transfer Control Protocol / Internet Protocol". The network
communication protocol used by all Internet computers. Similar in function to
NetBIOS, SNA, or Novell Netware's IPX/SPX.

Telnet A program or feature popularly used on the Internet by individuals to
log into, and take control of other computers on the Internet.

VRML "Virtual Reality Markup Language" A new emerging language becoming
supported by the World Wide Web, for programming virtual reality content on the

Web Browser A type of program used by individuals which reads HTML files on the
Internet and presents them to the user in a friendly way and interactive way.
Many such programs exist for many platforms. For UNIX several GUI browsers are
popular. For those UNIX based terminals or DOS based PCs, Lynx provides a text
interface to browse Web Pages. All Web Browsers allow the user to interactively
jump from place to place by selecting hotspots (highlighted text or graphics).
Some browsers allow the user to print page contents.

Web Page or Web Document A single viewable unit of Web information. Often be
comprised of an HTML file with several referenced graphics files. Generally,
each Web Page has hypertext links to other Web Pages.

Web Site A collection of Web Pages built for or by a single company or
individual. Usually provides one theme of content. A Web Site is not to be
confused with a single physical location where a Web Server exists. It is a

Web Server A combination of computer hardware, telecomm. lines, and HTTP server

World Wide Web, WWW, or The Web An intricate and vast web of information, tied
together by hypertext links between multimedia documents residing on thousands
of Internet computers around the globe.


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