New-Age Work Accidents

How much time do you spend in front of your computer?  According to a poll on The New Business Blog, a whopping 65 percent of Americans are glued to their PCs for eight hours a day. A recent article in The New York Times went on to say that the amount of time people spend on the Internet has increased more than 120 percent over the last five years.


New-Age Work Accidents How to best outfit your office to prevent injuries By Angela Howard

How much time do you spend in front of your computer?  According to a poll on The New Business Blog, a whopping 65 percent of Americans are glued to their PCs for eight hours a day. A recent article in The New York Times went on to say that the amount of time people spend on the Internet has increased more than 120 percent over the last five years.

Maybe that’s why we’ve seen a surge in injuries like tendonitis and carpal tunnel in those who spend the majority of their working hours in front of the computer.

“Clearly, about the time we started seeing computers, we started seeing these injuries,” said Dr. David Bellamy, an orthopedic surgeon at the Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic.

I know what you’re thinking. Real work-related injuries occur when a construction worker falls from the roof of a house, or when a city worker is half buried in a ditch, or when a firefighter is burned while fighting a blaze. Surely, sitting at a computer for eight hours a day can’t be hard, let alone a hazard to your health. But each profession has its downfalls. While blue-collar workers face the possibility of being physically injured by accidents on the job, white-collar workers deal with what Bellamy calls non-accidental injuries.

These non-accidental injuries include:

Tennis Elbow: When the joint rotary area of the elbow is irritated by immoderate movements.

Tendonitis: Inflammation of a tendon (most commonly seen in the hands of those who work on computers).

Carpal Tunnel: When the median nerve between the flexor retinaculum of the hand and the carpal bones is compressed, causing pain in the wrist.

Non-accidental injuries can also be a pain in the back or a sore or kinked neck.

It’s the latter of these that Jeanne Ragsdale knew all too well. She has always spent the majority of her day on the phone, talking with customers and vendors. And those hours spent with the receiver cradled between her ear and shoulder gave her a literal pain in the neck.

“I would spend a lot of time at the chiropractor, and it was becoming a problem,” she said.

Ragsdale works as an account executive and procurement agent at Aegis, an information technology company based in Tallahassee. The company’s 13 staff members spend a good portion of their day on the phone and the computer, working to solve the IT problems of companies locally and providing web support to those nationwide, so it makes sense that these folks would see their fair share of cricked necks, sore backs and stiff joints.

The folks at Aegis aren’t alone in their plight, though. On St. George Island, Rose Drye and her team at Prudential Shimmering Sands Realty work day and night to help people into and out of the home of their dreams. That often translates into many hours in front of the computer and on the phone.

“I spend about half my time at the computer, the other half on the phone, meeting with sales associates and going over paperwork,” said Drye, who is the broker/manager of the realty office.

Handling the Problem

For Drye, relief from work-related problems like a stiff neck or a sore back come in the form of a time-out.

“Stretch, walk, get outside if possible” are Drye’s solutions to a long day inside.

While the agents in her office spend a fair amount of time on the computer inside, Drye says they are able to balance it out with time spent showing homes and properties to customers in the area.

“Typically, the sales associates are in the office only when they are on the schedule or if they are meeting customers,” she said.

But for those at Aegis, computers are what they do. That’s why Blake Dowling, Aegis’ chief business development officer, says the company does what it can to make the employees as comfortable as possible while they work.

“If you need a headset or a wrist rest or a new chair, we will do our best to get that for you,” Dowling said.

A comfort feature like this was just what Aegis account executive/procurement agent Jeanne Ragsdale needed. At first, she didn’t even associate the problem with work, but then she was given a headset to use and she realized the two went hand in hand. She explained that the speakerphone on the landline in her office is not very reliable and it is sometimes a distraction to use when others are in the room, so her supervisors decided to get her the headset so she could stay hands-free and her phone calls with customers and vendors could remain private.

That headset was given to Ragsdale about six months ago and, at least for longer calls, it makes all the difference in the world.

“Once I started using [the headset], I noticed there was no more crick in my neck,” she said.

But the help doesn’t stop there. Dowling says the family-friendly company also allows its employees to relax in their own way while on the clock, by permitting them to listen to an IPod or take a walk to the nearby coffee house to get a cup of Joe.  Aegis even holds Yoga classes for any interested employees at closing time on Monday and Wednesday nights.

Tips for Reducing Non-Accidental Injuries

Bellamy said problems often arise because, “Some folks just sit down at the desk provided them and don’t take the time to make the adjustments for them.”

Using equipment that is not adjusted for you specifically can make for tough working conditions, especially as the days and weeks wear on. But there are a number of ways to reduce your risk of suffering a non-accidental injury at work.

Bellamy explained that it all starts with the layout of your office or workspace and the items in it. First, you need to adjust your computer monitor so that it is about 18 inches from your eyes and just slightly lower than eye level, so that you’re actually looking at the top of the monitor.

Also check the positioning of the keyboard and the mouse. Bellamy says they should be placed close together and should be about even with your elbows so that you are not stretching to reach them.

Next on your checklist should be finding a good chair, preferably one that is adjustable in height.

“They all need to have that little lumbar support that supports your lumbar spine,” Bellamy said.

Your chair should also have padded arm and/or elbow rests and a waterfall-type front to take the pressure off the backs of your leg.

Finally, Bellamy suggests keeping items you use most often close by or within arm’s reach and things you use less often on a shelf farther away.

Who Should Pay for Personalized Office Space?

We’ve covered the myriad of ways to personalize your space when working in an office in front of a computer or on the phone for long periods of time, but who picks up the tab for new gear?

Sometimes, a company will ante up.

“A lot of big companies have ergonomic consultants,” said Bellamy. “Within reason, most employers do their best to make the workplace ergonomically correct.”

Despite their smaller size, Drye says her company will do “whatever is necessary and reasonable” to accommodate employees, while Dowling said Aegis would and has paid for headsets, wrist rests and new chairs if an employee expresses a need.

“You have to get the creative juices flowing and the chair, the arm rest, the windows help get the juices flowing,” said Dowling.

However, Bellamy says not all companies are willing or able to do this.

“Sometimes employers get in a tough spot,” he said. “There may be some places that say, hey, you can have whatever mouse you want, but you have to buy it.”

Costs Related to Non-Accidental Injuries and Worker’s Compensation

In Florida, if your problem starts at work it’s
covered under worker’s comp, Bellamy explained.

That’s great news for those suffering from non-accidental injuries; however, he said many people do not know this and put off treatment far longer than they should.

According to the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation, employees have up to 30 days to report a claim to their employer, and that employer has up to seven days to inform the insurance company of the report.

The Division of Workers’ compensation also says “all authorized medical bills should be submitted by the medical provider to your employer’s insurance company for payment,” meaning the employee does not have to pay for his or her care.

Blake Dowling says since Aegis’ inception 15 years ago, no one has ever complained of a problem like this, but he says the company would pay for a chiropractor or other medical intervention if it was needed. Likewise, Rose Drye has never had an employee come to her with a non-accidental injury. But the fact that the state of Florida is looking out for its employees is something many workers will undoubtedly take comfort in knowing.


Additional Tips from Dr. Bellamy:

» Get up and walk; adjust your seat, especially if you sit the same way for more than 30 minutes.

» Keep moving so the same muscle group is not overworked.

» Don’t ignore problems. Document them and report them.

» More than half of those who suffer can get better just by making adjustments at work.

» You don’t need an expensive screen elevator to raise your computer monitor, just put last year’s phone book under it.


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