Increasingly, agricultural work is computer work, which introduces a new set of risks. The human body is made to move. Long periods of work in front of a computer are not what we are designed for, and they can damage the body, cause pain and disability.
This type of work puts the body at risk of musculoskeletal injury (MSI), an injury or disorder of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, blood vessels or related soft tissues, including sprains, strains and inflammation.
The back, neck, shoulders, hands and wrists are the most commonly affected parts of the body, says Kathy-Lynn Shaw, certified ergonomist and president of the Canadian Association of Ergonomists (ACE) of Labrador City, Newfoundland. New.
These injuries can occur suddenly or accumulate over months and are among the leading causes of lost productivity, producing chronic pain, weakness, numbness, sleep disturbances, fatigue and disability.
“A lot of this is the result of poor ergonomics in the workplace,” says Shaw. “Ergonomics is the science of adapting tasks, systems, products, tools and the environment to the capabilities and limitations of workers. It is about making the job fit the worker rather than fitting the worker to the job.
The strategy is simple and effective. If a job is not suitable for a worker, the worker is more likely to be injured.
All of this is often overlooked until a person suffers debilitating pain, but paying attention to workstation setup and adopting good habits can help prevent injuries and the associated loss of productivity. It also goes further than that. Employers also have a legal responsibility to ensure the workplace is safe and healthy, Shaw says.
How does your farm rank? Well, ask yourself, do you know how to adjust your workstation to meet your needs, and do other family members and employees know how to make those adjustments too? This is especially critical when multiple people share the same office equipment, says Shaw.
In the paragraphs below, Shaw and New Hamburg Certified Physical Therapist Amanda Stevens shares her top tips for creating an optimal office setup.
According to Shaw, the physical setup should allow the body to work in a neutral or comfortable position. This means that when you are seated in front of the computer, you should be seated an arm’s length from the monitor, your feet should be flat on the floor (or on a footstool), the monitor should be about level level with your eyes and your elbows, knees and hips should be at 90 degree angles. “It’s called the 90-90-90 rule,” she points out.
Stevens says the wrists should also be in a neutral position when using a keyboard. A split keyboard is more adjustable for different shoulder widths, she says.
“If you’re going to spend money on one thing, spend it on your chair,” Stevens says. She advises buying one that is fully adjustable and has lumbar support for your back.
Frequently used items should be close at hand, Stevens adds. “It is better to stand upright to reach anything that is not nearby and avoid overstretching.”
When using a laptop computer, Stevens recommends an external keyboard and an external monitor so that the monitor can be placed at the appropriate height and distance.
One advantage of the laptop, however, is its portability. This allows the user to work with the laptop in different places, including placing it on a counter, says Shaw. An ironing board with its adjustable heights can also be used.
If you’re standing at your computer, anti-fatigue mats or the like should be used to reduce the strain on your feet and legs that results from standing for long periods of time, warns Shaw. A footrest will encourage you to change your position.
Also remember a cover to reduce glare, Stevens says.
Even if you have an ideal workstation setup, changing positions frequently is key, says Stevens. And it’s important to take frequent breaks, says Shaw, who recommends taking breaks about every 30 minutes to improve circulation and blood flow. She also suggests drinking plenty of water (this will get you up regularly for bathroom breaks). Also locate your printer remote from your workstation to force you to get up to retrieve the printed pages.
Stevens says doing simple stretches throughout the day can also help prevent injury (see illustration).
Spending time on our smartphones also leads to tension headache issues from looking down and causing thumb pain while writing texts. Shaw suggests varying the fingers you use to write texts. For phone calls, use the speakerphone option or a headset to make it easier on the neck.
Also, be sure to be smart about doing hobbies like doing puzzles or knitting that involve similar positions. It’s especially important to take breaks, says Stevens. “You can’t overestimate the power of movement.”
And if you’re feeling pain, Stevens recommends seeing a medical professional or getting an ergonomic assessment. You may think you don’t have time. In fact, however, it will put you on the path to being more efficient.
If your chair isn’t adjustable, Stevens and Shaw offer simple, inexpensive solutions that may make it more suitable.
- To raise the seat height, place a pillow on the seat. A towel rolled up behind your back can provide lumbar support. If the armrests are too low but not adjustable, you can wrap the armrests in towels.
- Also consider other steps you can take to make your computer setup more ergonomic and reduce strain on your body.
- Adjust the height of the monitor using books.
- Place a folded towel in front of a keyboard to soften a hard edge.
- Use keyboard shortcuts to limit switching between keyboard and mouse.
- Place unopened packets of computer paper under your feet if your feet are not flat on the floor.
There are many excellent resources online to help with workstation ergonomics.