Ergonomics Play Important Role in New Learning Habitats

Article excerpt

The old flip-top wooden school desk of yore is an icon of innocence, youth and American learning. It is also one of the most uncomfortable pieces of furniture in existence.

With the advent of computers, the traditional school desk has metamorphosed into an ergonomic workstation. Computer-friendly tables, chairs and desks are pivotal to good teaching and learning because computer use creates a unique strain on the human body, the effects of which include eye strain; neck and back pain; fatigue; and carpal tunnel syndrome, a wrist-hand affliction caused by continuous keyboarding without proper wrist support.

By applying scientific principles to achieve better working conditions, equipment and furniture can be manufactured in a way that reduces the stress and strain often placed on administrators, instructors and students.

Several national standards and guidelines have been developed based on sound ergonomic principles: the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in conjunction with the Human Factors Society (HFS); the Canadian Standards Association's CAN/CSA-2412-M89 Office of Ergonomics; and the International Standards Organization (ISO) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) recommendations, which are currently under development.

Basically, the ultimate comfort of the user is key. Many factors should be considered when ordering computer desks, tables and chairs: the distance from the user to the computer screen, the height of the monitor, room lighting, height of the table, correct back support, clearance for disabled users, correct wrist positioning and more. Numerous manufacturers have furniture that meet the above national guidelines. The benefits are invaluable-improved student and employee attentiveness, less fatigue, fewer medical costs and overall better productivity.

It should be said that T.H.E. Journal does not endorse one interpretation of the ergonomic guidelines as more valid than another. Most companies will be happy to send information that explains their implementation of ergonomic design.

The Chair

Two words have been associated with correct sitting posture from the get-go: lumbar support. One chair manufacturer, ZackBack International, Inc., offers the ZackBack Posture Chair, which challenges the notion that lumbar is the only way.

The company states that lower back support actually distorts one's sitting posture by displacing the upper trunk and both relaxing and overstretching the lower abdominal muscles. Their chair is multi-adjustable, adding sacral support above the lower back as well as lower spine support below the lumbar region rather than against it. The chair is said to promote proper diaphragmatic breathing while providing proper pelvic and spinal stabilization. Chairs are available with or without armrests.

Desks

A hotly-debated topic by some is the placement of computer monitors on desks. Current ANSI/HFS standards allow for viewing angles of 0 to -60 degrees below the horizontal line of sight; Canadian standards call for 0 to -45 degrees. To support these guidelines, several manufacturers favor placing monitors below the worksurface level, with a glare-resistant glass plate facilitating viewing.

Nova Office Furniture's response is to position monitors from 20 to 40 degrees below the horizontal line of sight, which the company maintains alleviates chronic neck pain and keeps a constant optimal distance between the user and the screen.

The 85 Series, suited for computer labs, places the computer, its components and wires within the unit. Eye contact with students is maintained throughout a lesson. Other desk features are a pull-out keyboard drawer with wrist rest. The Multimedia Instructor Station, a new implementation of this technology, integrates computer and overhead projector hardware below the work surface; an LCD panel can be used at the worksurface height. …