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New ways to reduce computer-related injuries

According to some studies, computing-related injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndromes or back injuries, affect about one-third of computer users. A Cornell University researcher decided to find some ways to help us. So he studied new products able to prevent repetitive motion injuries, including a chair that undulates, a mouse that vibrates or a monitor suspended over a desk on a movable arm. And don't laugh at his efforts. As kids are now using computers at age 2, they might develop non-curable chronic injuries even before becoming adults. But read more...

According to some studies, computing-related injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndromes or back injuries, affect about one-third of computer users. A Cornell University researcher decided to find some ways to help us. So he studied new products able to prevent repetitive motion injuries, including a chair that undulates, a mouse that vibrates or a monitor suspended over a desk on a movable arm. And don't laugh at his efforts. As kids are now using computers at age 2, they might develop non-curable chronic injuries even before becoming adults. But read more...

A prototype of a new chair design studied at Cornell

You can see on the left a prototype of a new chair design studied at Cornell. "To reduce static load on intervertebral discs from prolonged sitting, the seat of this prototype chair makes a continuous wavelike motion. (Credit: Cornell University)

This research project is being led by Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell's College of Human Ecology and director of the Cornell Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group (CHFERG). You'll find much more information by visiting the CUErgo website.

You'll find even more details by reading an article from Human Ecology Magazine, which is published twice a year by the College of Human Ecology of Cornell University, "Ergonomic Expert Keeps Pace with Computer Challenges (Volume 35, Number 2, November 2007, PDF format, 4 pages, 234 KB). The picture on this post has been extracted from this article.

Here is a description of Hedge's findings. "Hedge's subjects sat on a chair in which the seat made a continuous sinusoidal (wavelike) movement at a rate they could adjust. Would this interrupt concentration or make the person feel motion sick or otherwise uncomfortable? Most important, would it alleviate back pain for people whose pain increases when they are seated? The findings regarding each of these specific questions were mixed, but overall Hedge concluded that the movable seat was a concept with promise, particularly for individuals with back problems."

It is not unusual that Hedge gets requests from companies about good seats for their employees. "Common among them are ones like this: 'What kind of chair can I buy for my people that costs about $300?' Such a question represents a false economy, the foolhardiness of which Hedge, a professor of design and environmental analysis who is an international authority on the behavioral science of ergonomics, inveighs against. He backs up his stance with three decades of scientific inquiry. 'The difference between a not very good chair and a really good chair is about another $300,' Hedge explains. 'Compared to a single injury -- one carpal tunnel syndrome case can cost upward of $100,000 -- that investment is trivial.'"

Now, let's look at the vibrating mouse studied by Hedge and his team, who presented their results under the name "Effects of a Vibrating Mouse on Computer Users' Work Behaviors and Performance" at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society which was held in Baltimore on October 1-5, 2007. "Hedge and his graduate student Christopher Moe recently studied a vibrating mouse, manufactured in the Netherlands by Hoverstop B.V. It wasn't the mouse, per se, that intrigued them but rather the potential benefit of a device to halt the rise in upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders being seen now in computer users."

For more information, you can check the Hoverstop website and its active ergonomic mouse section which tells us how the mouse works. "The Hoverstop mouse detects if your hand is on the mouse. It then monitors if you are actually using it (clicking, scrolling). If you are not using it for more than 10 seconds, it will vibrate softly to remind you to take your hand away and relax. This will give you many (micro)breaks per hour. Meanwhile you continue to work normally (thinking, reading), without being disturbed. If you need the mouse again, just pick it up to resume work." By the way, you can order this mouse directly from Hoverstop for €55 (about US$80).

Finally, here is a link to a Cornell Chronicle Online, "Ergonomist studies vibrating mouse, seats," which contains additional pictures of the devices studied by alan Hedge and his team. "'Everything we do can be summed up in the phrase: Good ergonomics is great economics,' Hedge says. 'More than 90 percent of a company's costs are people costs, so making small investments in improving the workplace by using good ergonomic products pays huge dividends.'" I don't want to argue with him, but I would really like to know where he got this information.

Sources: Metta Winter, Cornell Chronicle Online, December 12, 2007, via EurekAlert!, December 21, 2007; and various websites

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