Ergonomics Expert Post-Pandemic Q&A @ Mindy Smith, MEng, CPE
During the pandemic, I wrote an article based on a great at-home ergonomics article written by Ergonomics Expert Mindy Smith of TeamErgo. You can find her contact information at the end of this article. She definitely knows her stuff. The previous article that I wrote can be found here. The prior article centered on cost-savings with home ergonomics. The article is worth a read even today for the cost-saving ideas.
Let us get started with the 11 Questions that I sent over to the ergonomics expert earlier this month. The last three questions were suggested by Mindy due to their importance.
11 Questions to the Ergonomics Expert
1. What, if any, are the differences between ergonomics pre, during, and post-pandemic?
As more people work from anywhere, we are seeing a greater focus on ergonomics in non-traditional workspaces. Employers are also focusing more on ergonomics in the workplace to encourage workers to return to the office.
2. Are you seeing more assignments for doing analyses for home-based workers?
Yes! At the start of the pandemic, many people felt that working from home would be temporary. Now that more people are working full or part-time from home, they are realizing that they need a better workstation set-up to feel more comfortable.
3. Were there any hesitancies by home-based workers to on-site ergonomic analyses?
People are not always comfortable opening their homes to strangers, just as I was hesitant to go into homes. I have completed a few in-home assessments, but primarily I perform these evaluations over the phone or Zoom.
4. Was there any shift away from back injuries as the most prevalent cause of injuries?
Not that I’ve seen. According to Liberty Mutual, overexertion injuries were still the most disabling workplace injury in 2022, and many of those injuries involve the back. People working from home during the pandemic actually saw an increase in discomfort in the back as well as the neck and shoulders.
5. What type of organizations (governmental, large private industry, etc.) use you the most?
I primarily conduct office assessments for corporate customers. I also work with government and military clients delivering training and assisting with policy development. In addition, I perform industrial evaluations in manufacturing facilities to identify possible ergonomics-related hazards and determine ways to address them.
6. Do employers or insurance companies hire you most often?
Most of my work tends to be on behalf of insurance companies, but I also work with government and private industry clients.
7. As an ergonomics expert, do you work with field case managers/rehab nurses on workers comp files? If so, have you seen an increase or a decrease in this type of assignment?
I have not worked on workers’ compensation files; however, I would like to see ergonomics incorporated more into return-to-work cases.
8. Has or will AI assist ergonomists in the future? How?
That’s a very interesting question. I haven’t tried AI, but I believe it could be used for simple workstation assessments that do not involve injuries.
9. Many people work just with a laptop, what advice can you give?
Laptops are not designed for comfortable long-term use. If the monitor is at eye level, the user has to type at shoulder height. If the keyboard is at the right height, the user is bending their neck down to view the screen. The easiest solution is to raise the height of the monitor with books, a box, or a laptop stand so the top of the screen is just below eye level and add a separate keyboard and mouse. If you wear bifocals, a lower screen height is recommended so that you do not have to tilt your head back to view the screen.
10. I’ve heard a lot about workstations that go up and down to let you sit or stand. Do I need one to be comfortable?
Alternating sitting and standing promotes muscle movement and blood flow which can help reduce discomfort. Instead of investing in new furniture, try creating a standing workstation at your kitchen counter or other raised surface in your home. Prolonged standing is just as fatiguing as prolonged sitting, so you do not need to stand for very long. If you do not want to stand and work, you can take micro-breaks, which are 60 to 90-second breaks during your day to get out of your chair and move. In ergonomics, we like to say the best posture is your next posture. Movement is key to being more comfortable at work.
11. What is the most important piece of advice you have for making people more comfortable at their computers?
Most desks are too tall. They’re designed so that tall people can get their knees under the desk. The rest of us end up leaning forward and raising our shoulders to work at a surface that is too high.
Try this exercise to see if this affects you:
Sit at your desk with your elbows touching your torso (not on the armrests of the chair), and place your palms flat on your thighs. Relax your shoulders by doing a few shoulder rolls. Notice how your shoulders feel when they are relaxed, and then start typing. If your shoulders came up when you moved your hands to the keyboard, then your desk is too high. You should be able to type with your shoulders relaxed and at least a 90-degree angle in your elbows. If the desk is too tall and not adjustable, it may help to raise the height of your chair or sit on pillows. If your feet are not resting comfortably on the floor, use a footrest, a box, or a stack of books.
The ergonomics expert can be contacted here –
ErgoSmith Consulting, LLC