Ergonomics How Important Is It

Ergonomics How Important Is It

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Ergonomics: How Important Is It?

By Ruth Chaney, CMT

What is ergonomics? The term is best described as the science of fitting the job to the worker. How ergonomics affects a medical transcriptionist’s (MT) work life can be found in literature dating as far back as 1983, describing the VDT workstation and how to control glare and postural problems. Obviously ergonomics is a challenge to individuals and management alike because here we are 17 years later still trying to design a safe environment by incorporating ergonomics into the medical transcription workplace.

Chaney The advent of the Internet provides access to many different Web sites that give more information on ergonomics than one could hope to assimilate.

However, I have been an MT for approximately 11 years and have experienced work-related injuries due to repetitive stress. And, not all repetitive stress injuries are diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

Evaluate Your Workstation

While comfort and eclectic surroundings are important considerations in the workplace design, the contribution of ergonomics to the creation of a safe work environment should be given priority.

Listed below are some guides to use in the evaluation of such a workstation for MTs.

* To minimize cervical stress and tension in the neck and shoulders, the design should allow the head and neck to be upright and relaxed as well as balanced between the shoulders.

* The hands and wrists should be relaxed and straight, without needing to bend them up, down or sideways.

* The knees should be about hip level or slightly higher or lower, depending on the individual’s comfort and preference.

* The lower back should be well supported by the chair’s forward curve or a lumbar roll.

* Eyes should be an arm’s length or more from the computer screen to reduce eye strain and tension.

Find the Best Chair

To achieve all of this, the appropriate chair and computer desk should be individually selected. There are many new chair designs on today’s market. Some have split keyboards on articulating arms, some require kneeling on a padded kneeler and then leaning back against a padded back. There are chairs with and without arms; some with adjustable molded or flat seats, backs and arms. The list goes on. It is important for employers to recognize that one chair will not fit all MTs. Whenever possible, MTs should select the chair best suited for them.

Create a Safe Work Surface

Next are desks or work surfaces that are either manually or electronically adjustable, allowing for individual adjustments. When placing the desk in the workspace, be certain that the lighting is adequate and that it does not produce a glare on the monitor’s screen. Placing things on the desk is important, too. Think about what placement will produce the least amount of stress when positioning such things as dictation/transcription equipment, the keyboard and phone sets.

Reduce Eye Strain

Last, but not least, consider how best to reduce eye strain. This can often be accomplished by MTs’ remembering to blink more frequently to reduce dryness and irritation. Shifting one’s focus by looking away from the screen and closing the eyes periodically gives the eyes the rest they must have to keep them healthy.

There are critical elements for the implementation of ergonomic practices that have been identified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They include management, leadership, and employee participation; hazard identification and information; job hazard analysis and control; employee training; and medical management and program evaluation.

MTs should take responsibility for reducing potential problems by:

* Reducing repeated motions with the positive utilization of software and equipment.

* Diminishing or eliminating forceful hand exertion. Today’s keyboards do not require the effort to depress keys that they once did.

* Keeping work tools within easy reach. Awkward bending or twisting should not be necessary to accomplish one’s job. Reference books should be kept at shoulder height or below, and the heavier books should be kept on the work surface. Work-smart MTs are purchasing references on disk so the reach for their favorite book is no further than their computer toolbar.

* Taking microbreaks allows tired muscles to recover from repetitive movements, eyes to change focus and rest, and lungs to breathe again after being held through a particularly difficult dictation.

Impressive statistics and literature exist about ergonomics, so much in fact that the very word “ergonomics” may be perceived by some to be just another buzzword of the 90s. However, work-related injuries are far more than a perception as evidenced by the “OSHA Issues Ergonomics Program Proposal” ( Consider, too, that the Bureau of Labor’s most recent statistics show that 34 percent of all lost work time injuries and illnesses are due to repetitive injuries. Why is this important? Because the cost is currently $15 billion to $20 billion in workers compensation costs, and the total direct costs are as much as $60 billion.

In the year 2000 and beyond, there should be no question about the importance of safe and healthy work environments; all workers deserve them. MTs and their employers need to pay particular attention to the reduction of potential repetitive stress injuries. With awareness and a little effort, this type of injury is preventable.

Ruth A. Chaney is an active practitioner with HealthScribe Inc., Sterling, VA. She serves as a member of the American Association for Medical Transcription (AAMT) Board of Directors, and is a member of the AAMT Bylaws Committee, the Wisconsin/Minnesota Association for Medical Transcription, and the Northwoods Chapter in Wisconsin.

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