Magazine article Occupational Hazards

IRS Accounts for Ergonomics

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

IRS Accounts for Ergonomics

Article excerpt

If you think managing tax information is difficult on an individual basis, imagine how painful it could be for America's tax collector, especially at this time of year. The Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) 110,000 employees process 150 million tax returns from individuals and businesses a year.

Some of the processing of the returns is automated, but illegible forms and taxpayer errors result in IRS employees having to enter tax information manually. As a result, IRS workers are at risk of developing low back pain and upper extremity cumulative trauma disorders due to static postures and data entry for long periods of time.

Since 1991, IRS has been spending about $1 billion per year to upgrade its technology and procedures. As part of this modernization effort, expected to be completed by 2001, IRS addresses the ergonomic needs of workers.

"Ergonomics makes it possible for people and technology to work together effectively," said Lawrence M. Schleifer, IRS industrial psychologist/ergonomist. "In many cases, we're making dramatic changes in the way people work. We can't do that without considering ergonomics."

Modernization Program

Schleifer said the technological changes are designed to improve productivity and taxpayer service, but they can also have ergonomic benefits. Among the changes are advanced scanners to eliminate some data entry operations and job enlargement so that employees perform several operations, including using scanning machines, preparing documents for scanning, and entering data manually.

These approaches "automatically eliminate some of the biomechanical stressors," Schleifer said, but they also make adjustability of workstations important because employees are involved in a variety of tasks. Adjustability is also essential, he said, because IRS has day and night shifts, with people of different physical characteristics working at the same workstations.

Schleifer said IRS wants equipment that meets the American National Standard for Human Factors Engineering of Visual Display Terminal Workstations (ANSI/HFES 100-1988). It includes minimum specifications for the computer's visual display, keyboard, workstation and chairs.

Although the standard is being updated, Schleifer said it is still useful for guiding equipment purchases. While many government procurement efforts focus on getting the least expensive, most durable equipment, IRS demands that ergonomics be taken into account. …

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