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Office Ergonomics: A Step-by-Step Guideline to Assessing the Office Workstation

Office Ergonomics: A Step-by-Step Guideline to Assessing the Office Workstation
Kelly Ingram-Mitchell, PT, MPT, CEAS, CWcHP
August 18, 2016

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This course is a transcript of a live webinar, Office Ergonomics: A Step-by-Step Guideline to Assessing the Office Workstation by Kelly Ingram-Mitchell, PT, MPT, CEAS, CWcHP.  Please follow along with your course handout.  Ergonomics Defined Official DefinitionThe official definition of ergonomics is “the application of scientific information concerning humans to the design of objects, systems, and environment for human use.” That does apply to all settings. Over time, we are beginning to see areas of specialty as they relate to ergonomics. In our industry in particular, we are seeing more and more customized requests for assessments in different environments:  in automobiles, industrial/manufacturing settings or offices. The purpose for the more customized or specialized requests is to focus on the specific environment, the objects that may be observed in that environment, the software systems and the technology that may be used in that environment, and the tasks required by the human to perform the physical demands of their job in that environment. Ergonomics is being ordered and/or promoted more and more in the clinical setting. As such, people are customizing templates and specific assessment tools, creating a specialized approach to evaluating different settings. A lot of times, when we receive an ergonomic referral, obtaining more detail about the purpose of the referral is helpful, and may steer you in a specific direction. If you have those templates available, being able to utilize those customized templates will be beneficial in assessing your customer’s environment. Practical DefinitionThe practical definition of ergonomics is a “study of a workplace design: the study of how a workplace and the equipment used there can best be designed for comfort, efficiency, safety, and productivity; without sacrifice of quality.” Office ErgonomicsOffice ergonomics examines how people interact with their work tasks and work space, usually more in a clerical setting. This is in effort to control or prevent musculoskeletal disorders and promote safety, efficiency, and productivity within the workplace. In the 1970s, ergonomics became a hot topic among physical and occupational therapy settings, and a lot of clinicians became certified to perform these types of tasks. At that time, we were seeing it more for specific requests, such as ordering a chair if an individual was returning from a specific injury (e.g., low back, shoulder or knee). Then, it evolved more into a return-to-work requirement by certain organizations in order to promote a sustainable worker after returning from surgery or an injury. Now, employers are beginning to implement ergonomics programs as a continuum, offering it from a preventive standpoint to avoid injury. Then, also having the same option or opportunity for the employee, if they are returning to work after an injury, to also have either a follow-up and/or an initial ergonomics evaluation. We're seeing much more of a continuum on how ergonomics is being used. In addition, more customers are hiring clinicians to assist with the purchase of specific equipment as it relates to ergonomics. For instance, moving into a new building, or adding a significant amount of staff, and recreating a workplace with appropriate furniture and equipment. Employers are utilizing the clinician on the front end to help with the selection of office equipment that's most suitable, not only for the type of work they do but also for the individuals that are presently working on those tasks within the workplace. This is very good news for us as therapists. It gives us some unique areas in which we can market to employers and insurance carriers within our industry. Increasingly, what we're seeing is preventative implementation. That gives us an opportunity to help employers share with their group of employees the value that they place on safety and prevention. In return, it tends to change the behavior within a workspace if the employer and the clinicians are more pro-active with their approach. Ergonomics is a great cost-effective way to begin that process. Many articles have been written about ergonomics, and even some of the safety associations and magazines have been placing a large focus on ergonomics. Office Ergonomics Improper workstation setup can lead to fatigue and awkward postures. This correlates specifically to a significant amount of what we see in our musculoskeletal realm: sprains, strains and a lot of conditions ending in “-itis.” When noticing minor fatigue, making simple changes to your work area can help to relieve fatigue. It can help to promote a proper posture. It allows the extremities to rest comfortably and can improve circulation. It can reduce stress within the musculoskeletal system. Early detection and intervention is key to minimizing impact. As we go out and perform ergonomic assessments, I always try to promote early detection and intervention. The cost of an ergonomic assessment is so minimal as compared to sustaining an injury, such as a repetitive strain, bursitis, or tendonitis. If it can be prevented, it's of such value to the organization to do so. This should also be promoted to patients, as well as any employee that would be working in an environment that offers office ergonomics as part of an intervention. Training, Education and Early Ergonomics Training, education and early ergonomics reporting is key. I continually work with human resource departments to encourage and explain the benefits of an ergonomics training education program. It is the responsibility of the employees, if they are sore or fatigued, to report that early, so that it does not become a recordable incident and turn into an injury later on down the road. Nine times out of ten, if it's reported early as a soreness, a few modifications can be made without significant cost. The worker not only is happier, they're more productive and relieved from the discomfort. Resolving the discomfort leads to sustainable work and promotes wellness, which is another hot topic in our world right now. What is the definition of wellness? How do we continue to employ well people? Some of that involves actions taken and education provided. Ergonomics is not only an intervention but it's also a promotion of wellness. Utilize tools and act, exemplify and coach a change in behavior that encourages...

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kelly ingram mitchell

Kelly Ingram-Mitchell, PT, MPT, CEAS, CWcHP

Kelly Ingram-Mitchell holds a Masters degree in Physical Therapy and a Bachelors degree  in Exercise and Sports Medicine. Her experience exceed 20 years in prevention services and injury management.  Kelly previously served as Executive Director of a national therapy provider network and Director of Operations for over 20 plus outpatient therapy centers.

Mrs. Ingram-Mitchell spent many of her industrial years developing and implementing client specific prevention and rehab programs including post offer testing, physical demand analysis, ergonomics, early intervention, and onsite therapy models.  Working overseas enabled her to gain a significant understanding of the national needs related to the industry as well as the similarities and differences there maybe. In 2000, she developed a FCE Certification Program and for years trained her profession. This year she has co-partnered with ISPA for a new comprehensive protocol to include disability and compensation.  Her focus is on research and education allowing market place leverage to best impact client results.   



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