Monday, 30 April 2012

Mother's Day special - the pregnant lady at work

With Mother's Day just around the corner, here's one for the mums-to-be out there! 

As if needing to pee frequently, food cravings and nausea wasn't enough to deal with while pregnant, you may also be experiencing increased low back pain, sciatica (when the pain shoots down the bottom and into one or both legs), and pelvic pain. And as much as you try to sit up straight, there is a big belly that stops them from getting close enough to their desk (especially in the 3rd trimester!).

I recently did an assessment for a woman who had 3 weeks left of work before starting maternity leave (was 34 weeks pregnant), and was experiencing intolerable back pain. The assessment identified that she was working at a rectangular desk and using two monitors, plus a laptop that was placed on the left side of the desk. By  turning between the three monitors, she was continuously rotating her spine all the way from her neck to her low back. Luckily her work had kidney-shaped desks and she was able to move to one of those. We were able to eliminate one of two monitors, thus centralising the main monitor and adjusting it to the correct viewing height, and then moved the laptop (used only as a reference) closer to the monitor and elevated it with books to the level of the monitor. The desk was height adjustable, but as she found that she was leaning forward throughout the day, I recommended a small footrest to encourage her to lean back into her chair. The backrest was adjusted to provide the best support for her back and a document holder put in place to eliminate her neck rotation and flexion when entering data. She noticed a difference immediately and was able to maintain working for the remaining few weeks. 

Here are some tips:

  • As tempting as it is to sit sideways to get closer to the desk, try to maintain a neutral spine as much as possible. Remember the phrase 'Nose and Toes' and always try to face your nose and toes in the same direction to avoid straining your back.
  • Check the backrest of your chair - the lumbar support should be nestled into the small of your back, not near your bottom. While you're at it, check the tilt of the backrest as well and adjust it for comfort.
  • Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If they can't reach the floor without you moving forward in your seat, get a footrest to elevate the floor surface to you. This is really important and will make a big difference. It should be at a level where your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly sloping down.
  • Keep your most frequently used items on the desk as close to you as reasonably possible. Even if that's your tissue box - you need to avoid repetitively over-reaching. Keep things within an arms reach. 
  • Check your monitor height (especially if you use a laptop). Avoid neck flexion where possible by bringing the screen up so that your eye level is in the top 1/3 of the screen. So, if you are using a laptop, that means elevating the laptop with a laptop stand and then using an external keyboard and mouse so that you're not stretching out to work. 
  • Most importantly - take breaks away from sitting! This doesn't mean taking 10 minutes for a cuppa every hour, just changing your posture with a walk around the office, walking to the printer or refilling a glass of water. Try for a posture change every 30 minutes. 
Hope that helps! 

(If you are experiencing increased pain while sitting at your desk, it is advisable to have a professional ergonomic assessment. Contact your preferred provider or Get Ergonised to arrange an assessment).

Monday, 16 April 2012

Who says travelling is relaxing?

Well, travelling CAN be relaxing when you're on holidays.. but even so, using the laptop to upload and edit photos during our honeymoon last month led to lots of different 'workstations', and invariably led to needing a couple of massages to help soothe the tight neck and shoulder muscles (sure I would've gotten massages regardless, but this was a valid reason to get them sooner rather than later).

The first example of poor ergonomic set up came when we were sitting on the plane on our way to Perth to start our honeymoon. I glanced across the seats to a fellow passenger, and this is what I saw:

CRINGE! Oh the poor man's wrists! Not to mention his shoulders and neck!

While working with a laptop 'on the road' can't be avoided, here are a few tips to give your body a bit of a break.


In an ideal world, along with your laptop you would carry an external wireless keyboard and mouse, and for extra points, a portable laptop stand that doubles as a document holder. You would have access to a desk and a chair that was either the right height for the desk, or was height adjustable.

In a not-so-ideal world (which is the case most of the time) where the set up can't be changed, here are some ways to change your posture:

  • If there is no desk and you have to place the laptop on your lap, place a pillow on your lap first to bring it to a more usable height, and while you're getting pillows, get a couple to place behind your back to help you sit up straight and supported, as opposed to slouching into the lounge
  • Still on the couch.. if you do have an external mouse (recommended), prop it up directly next to you with cushions topped with a small book or diary to give you a level surface with the keyboard
  • If there is a desk and a chair, but the chair is too high and your feet aren't supported by the floor, place a pillow, phone book, or even upturned bin under your feet to bring your thighs up so that they are parallel or slightly sloping down to the floor
  • Alternatively if the chair is too low and you're finding that you're hunching your shoulders up when typing at the high desk, place a pillow or two on the chair to raise your body up, and then again, find a footrest of some sort to bring your feet to a supported level. 
  • When on trains, taxis or planes, see if you can complete other tasks that don't require typing such as reviewing documents or making calls (when not flying of course).
  • Above all else, when in situations where you know you're working posture is not good, get up and move around more often, at least every 30 minutes.. and give your body a break!

Until next time,

Monday, 2 April 2012

How much is your career worth to you?

Firstly, apologies for the missed blog last fortnight. I've just returned from a wonderful honeymoon in Western Australia. We travelled from Albany to Exmouth, seeing beautiful landscapes and having amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences like swimming with Whale Sharks! I did notice however (can't ever switch off the ergonomic consultant in me), the challenges of using a laptop when travelling... more on that in the next blog, however in the meantime, I came across this blog today from Less Wrong. Worth a read:

Spend Money on Ergonomics

34Kevin23 December 2011 06:40AM
Warning: This is an applied rationality post, about rationality applied to a specific area of life, not a generalized rationality post.
Ergonomics is incredibly important. Sadly, so many of us in the techno-geek cluster ignore well-defined best practices of ergonomics and develop the infamous hunched back of late night computer toiling.
Seriously, ergonomics is basically a solved problem. The mathematics of anthropometry in relation to body mechanics and repetive stressors on the body are quite well understood.
I am here to offer you a basic, incredibly important, yet widely ignored lesson of rationality.
Spend money on ergonomics!
I really can't emphasize this enough. It's such low hanging fruit, yet I know way too many master aspiring rationalists with egregious ergonomic setups.
It is accepted wisdom on Less Wrong that optimizing your career is important, because you'll spend 80,000 hours working on your career. Strikingly, ergonomics presents an even larger time-based optimization opportunity. With straightforward monetary investment, you can dramatically improve the next hundreds of thousands of hours of your life. The effect size here is just enormous. Spend money on ergonomics, and you will be less fatigued, more energetic, more productive, and healthier into the later years of your life.
Get Ergonised can help you feel better at work by completing preventative or comprehensive workstation assessments in your workplace or home office. Training in ergonomics is also a valuable and cost-effective way to get the message across to employees and managers. 
Visit the website today!