Overcoming MSDs – the scourge of the modern office

by admin on April 10, 2013

By Ian Fletcher-Price, CEO, Posturite Ltd

You don’t have to wear hard hats and steel capped boots to face health risks at work. Office workers are also susceptible to a range of health issues, the most common of which are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

MSDs are responsible for millions of lost working days each year – 7.5 million in the UK alone – so it’s imperative that more is done to try to prevent the problems arising in the first place or, at the very least, to intervene earlier in order to lessen their impact.

Fortunately there are some signs that businesses are beginning to recognise the economic sense of taking preventative action to stop back problems arising in the first place rather than dealing with the after-effects.

We have noticed an upturn in orders from companies prepared to invest proactively in equipment designed to give desk-based staff greater protection against the causes of back pain and work-related upper limb disorders – sit/stand desking, ergonomic seating, writing slopes/document holders, vertical mice, monitor raisers, laptop solutions and so on.

Even so, they still represent the tip of the commercial iceberg. The vast majority of organisations still wait until there is a problem before taking remedial action.

Managers with one eye on their departmental budgets fall into the trap of purchasing to meet minimum levels of health and safety compliance instead of being allowed to buy on the basis of best practice. Were they to consult the health and safety professionals in their organisation, they would realise that a properly designed, adjustable, ergonomic workstation is one of today’s soundest business investments, cutting levels of absenteeism and increasing productivity.

It’s time that organisations started to take this subject a lot more seriously. Instead of worrying about how they are going to pay for an improved office environment, they should be asking themselves whether they can afford to keep paying for a poor one.

Similarly, they should be far more proactive in addressing the additional problems associated with the growing trend towards home and remote working.  With more people than ever now working on laptops, we’re fast turning into a nation of slouch potatoes.

The problem with laptops is the way they are designed. Because you can’t move the keyboard and screen apart, users tend to stretch forward further than they should, leading to a hunching of the shoulders. As a result, neck, back and shoulder problems are all on the increase, particularly among the young.

However, there are plenty of ways to make laptops safer and more comfortable to use. For example, by using a separate keyboard and mouse, you can place the laptop on a stand so that your eyes are at the same level as the top of the screen. This will avoid the stretching and hunching that cause many of the problems. And by taking plenty of breaks, you will put less stress on your muscles and joints.

Over-use of a conventional mouse can cause conditions such as repetitive strain injury (RSI) or carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) which is why people are turning increasingly to the new generation of ergonomic vertical mice such as the Posturite Penguin which virtually eliminates the need for wrist axis rotation, dramatically reducing stress to the carpal tunnel nerve and muscle strain in the forearm.

Ergonomic keyboards that can be split both horizontally and vertically help achieve the most comfortable working position and minimise the effects of ulnar deviation, (splaying the hands outward), pronation (turning the hands downwards over the keyboard) and dorsiflexion (cocking the hands back at the wrist).

Compact keyboards are also proving increasingly popular for the space they save and the protection they give to right handed users who, with conventional keyboards, need to stretch beyond the integrated number pad to reach their mouse. The Posturite Number Slide Arch keyboard hides the number pad until it is needed when it can be slid out sideways.

Products like these can help to overcome the dire personal and economic consequences of MSDs. Hopefully this will be recognised more widely as companies look for ways to increase productivity and reduce workplace absences.  

● Posturite, based at Berwick, near Lewes, is Britain’s leading provider of ergonomic solutions for the workplace.  For more information go to www.posturite.co.uk

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