Ergonomics in the Computer Age

Article excerpt

With so much attention focused on computer-related workplace injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and debilitating neck and back strain, it is easy to forget that schools are on the road to becoming similarly hazardous work environments for students within the coming years. According to a January 4,2001, article in The NewYorkTimes, some educators, researchers, and medical practitioners are concerned that the rapidly increasing use of computers in schools is occurring without a concomitant increase in teachers' or students' awareness of appropriate ergonomic principles.

Although teachers and doctors have likely been preaching good posture since the invention of the school desk, the issue has become far more serious of late because students are spending more and more time working on computers, thus increasing their susceptibility to the same repetitive-stress injuries faced by adults who do much of their work on computers. Obviously, the developmental differences between children and adults may cloud such diagnostic generalizations, particularly since students do not yet spend as much time on computers as adult workers. Yet even two-to-three hours a day of working at ergonomically unsound computer stations can have ill effects on students. A recent study of 314 ten- to 17-year-old Australian students found that 60 percent of them reported neck or back pain as a result of working with laptop computers for approximately 17 hours out of the school week. Smaller studies in American classrooms have found that many students are not aware of, and thus do not exhibit, appropriate bo dy position when using computers, even if their workstations are set up to allow just that.

The anecdotal evidence is equally compelling; parents and chiropractors are encountering children who suffer from hand, neck, and back pain as a result of extensive use of computer workstations constructed with a "one-size-fits-all" mentality. …