How to Reduce Ergonomic Risk for the Obese Worker

Did you know that:

  • Obese workers file more than twice the number of worker’s compensation claims with costs that are dramatically more costly than that of average weighted workers.
  • Obese workers are more than twice as likely to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome when compared to average weight workers. 36 percedn

Thirty-six percent of adults in the U.S.A are considered to be obese today. In today’s post I want to talk about one simple change you can do in your office to reduce some of the risks associated with typing. Obviously this post is targeted at obese workers, but really anyone can glean some usefulness out of this information. In my past life I was directly involved with assisting staff return to work from all sorts of injuries. Even under the most ideal circumstances, it was rarely a simple task. It was easy to see how Worker’s Compensation Insurance costs quickly multiplied when staff were away from work; after the first week of absence due to a workplace injury the costs of a claim compoundedWe are talking about HUGE costs here. The key message from this is that Prevention. Is. King.

I want to share with you one solution that can be added to your organization’s total wellness arsenal that will enhance employee health and/or reduce ergonomic risk: an alternative keyboard (in this case, a split/splayed keyboard). There are many changes that happen to an obese body that increases the ergonomic risk to certain joints in the body. An alternative keyboard should be a standard piece of equipment for all obese office workers because the science behind it is so strong. The graphic to the left, illustrates this the best.

25 (1)Let’s take an example of an obese worker using a standard workstation with a conventional keyboard. In this case, when I am referring to a conventional keyboard, it is the one that typically comes with a computer. Obesity means a higher body mass. With a higher body mass, a person’s torso size increases somewhat proportionally. A larger torso size causes an increase in awkward shoulder positioning, called shoulder abduction (also known as outward flexion). For comparison, under average body weight, the upper arm would be resting directly under the shoulder joint. This is referred to as a neutral posture. Shoulder abduction (or outward flexion of the shoulder) is considered to be an ergonomic risk factor for shoulder discomfort overtime due to the increased strain on the joint. So, due to this larger torso size/outward flexion (abduction) of  the shoulder, there is a direct effect on the wrist angle, because the arm is now more away from the body to type on a conventional type of keyboard. This causes a greater amount of awkward risk in the wrist. Specifically, this is called ulnar deviation, or outward flexion of the wrist (towards the person’s pinky finger) when typing. This is also considered to be an ergonomic risk factor that may increase the likelihood of developing a chronic wrist condition, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome overtime (and also with the presence of other ergonomic risk factors).

A higher body mass exacerbates awkward wrist angles. This is associated with an increased ergonomic risk when using a conventional keyboard.

The key area to reduce the ergonomic risk associated with typing is by improving the wrist angle into a more neutral posture. In this scenario, the amount of ulnar deviation can be reduced when an alternative, split/splayed keyboard  (for example, the Go!2 Mobile Keyboard, pictured to the right) is used. GTP-0044W-FRONTSPLIT

When compared to a conventional keyboard, the split keyboard is literally split in half,  between the ‘h’ and ‘g’ keys. From this point, the 2 sides of the keyboard can be pivoted or splayed to allow for many different angles. So, the angle of the keyboard can be adjusted to be aligned with the user to eliminate the ergonomically risky ulnar deviated (outside wrist flexion) postures. There has been very positive feedback of obese workers who switch to this type of keyboard. For instance, the keyboard was reportedly very easy to use (noteable considering the alternative design) and also decreased the user’s self-reported discomfort in the upper extremities.

What you can do today

This keyboard may be perfect for you if you are a combination of overweight AND experiencing wrist and shoulder discomfort. As always, I recommend that you trial this type of keyboard prior to purchasing to ensure that you enjoy using it and it helps with reducing your discomfort levels. Additionally, I am trying out this type of keyboard so keep a look-out for my review in the upcoming weeks.

Are you experiencing discomfort and would like a second opinion or an expert opinion? We have launched our E-consults!

Source

Smith, M., Pickens, A., Ahn, S., Ory, M., DeJoy, D., Young, K., Bishop, G. & Congleton, J. (2015). Typing performance and body discomfort among overweight and obese office workers: a pilot study of keyboard modification. Applied Ergonomics 46, 30-37.

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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