Recline Decline

Posted on March 1, 2011

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By Melissa Lucas

ErgoQuest Recline Workstation Model 500Could lying down on the job become the new standard for office life? Workstations are constantly evolving to suit the needs of businesses, but many employers are confusing health and productivity improvements in the office with extravagant, so-called ergonomic equipment.

Since many businesses require employees to spend extensive lengths of time sitting at a computer, which can lead to chronic low back pain and other health problems, choosing the right ergonomic chair is one way to keep injury costs down and employee productivity high. According to ESCOME, The Emory Spine Center for Outreach and Medical Education, over 100 million workdays are lost per year in the U.S. due to back pain. To add to that already painful loss, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports back pain is the most common cause of work-related disability in the United States, costing Americans nearly $50 billion annually.

So is it better to pay for ergonomic advancements now or health care and lost work days later? Let’s look at the other figures. Ergonomic chairs alone usually begin at around $400 and can fetch upwards of $1000 per chair, depending on quality, adjustments and of course, brand name. Since every chair fits an individual differently, customized chairs are normally ordered for new employees and return to work situations. That seems like a good investment when comparing short-term and long-term costs, but with employee turnaround and company growth, the cost to accommodate each and every staff member quickly adds up. Now add high tech keyboard trays, footrests, wrist supports and special monitors into the ergonomic workstation mix and you have one expensive cubicle. An expensive cubicle that will keep its occupant happy, however. And a happy employee is a productive employee.

In an effort to reduce lost workdays, ergonomic friendly products, all designed to support the human body and ease computer use during eight-hour workdays, continue to surface in the market. In 2006, the Radiological Society of North America discovered in a study that sitting at a 135-degree angle was the best possible position to avoid strain on the spine that leads to deformities and chronic pain of the ligaments. A new project by the Workplace Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center (RERC) is taking it one step further by creating the ultimate reclined or “supine” workstation. The goal of this tilted computer workstation is to relieve pressure on the spine, while obtaining perfect visibility to complete computer tasks. The station allows the user to work from several seated and reclined postures, which really helps people with chronic low back pain. But, as it may sound good in theory, these workstations do raise other questions regarding how practical they would be in an office setting. When lying down in a reclined position, most people tend to become relaxed and tired, which would reduce productivity. How relaxed do we want our workforce?

Currently this project is still undergoing testing, but if these workstations were mass-produced the price tag would, no doubt, be steep. With a sluggish economic, I couldn’t imagine companies who want to save on compensation claims, investing in a product that could result in sleeping on the job. While supine workstations may be suitable for extreme disability cases, ergonomically correct chairs provide the same 135-degree angle position and accommodate virtually everyone with the push of a button.

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