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The Right Fit

The Right Fit

Considering ergonomics when choosing school furniture.

Students in primary and secondary school can expect to be at school an average of seven hours a day; students attending college are encouraged to dedicate at least 35 hours a week to studying — in addition to time spent in the classroom. The time and energy devoted to learning doesn't affect just the mind; it also can take a toll on a person's physique. A student's body type can be as unique as his or her study habits.

In consideration of the extended periods of time students and faculty spend in libraries, computer labs, classrooms and study halls, learning facilities need to provide comfortable and functional furnishings that can adjust to individual needs, including height, build and working preferences.

Size matters

Creating a comfortable and flexible learning environment can have a significant effect on a student's stamina. Often, students must use the same desk and workstation as the student before them. A desk height that is comfortable for a varsity basketball player most likely will not be comfortable for a cheerleader.

A one-size-fits-all setting is not conducive to learning. In a higher-education facility, three to 25 people a day can be expected to use the same workstation, and the slouching, straining or leaning that some students are forced to do to use a workstation can cause physical discomfort and fatigue. To enhance performance and minimize fatigue and injury, learning establishments should be equipped with ergonomic workspaces that adapt to body size, strength and range of motion.

The advancement of technology has resulted in the presence of computers and related equipment in nearly all educational and office settings. A recent survey of 500 office workers indicated that more than 89 percent reported feeling muscle tension or fatigue at least occasionally at the end of their workdays. With the likelihood that many people will be using workstations from primary school to retirement, schools and universities should be taking steps to get students thinking and living ergonomically before stepping into an office setting.

Healthful contributions

Having the wrong furniture and equipment or using it improperly can result in repetitive stress injuries, which include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other conditions indicating damage in muscles, tendons and nerves.

To help students and staff learn how to prevent these injuries, schools can use simple awareness techniques, such as placing informational posters and packets in study areas and break rooms. A school could start an ergonomics club to teach injury-prevention strategies such as recognizing fatigue, avoiding at-risk positions for extended periods of time, taking breaks from work, and varying or altering tasks.

The following guidelines also are essential to consider:

  • Eye breaks

    Viewing computer screens strains the eyes. Look away briefly from the screen every 15 minutes. This allows the muscles inside the eye to relax.

  • Micro breaks

    Every 30 to 60 minutes, take breaks, less than two minutes in length, to stand, stretch or move around. This provides an opportunity to rest hands and wrists, and relieves pressure from any strained positions.

  • Stretch breaks

    To help relieve muscle fatigue, perform simple, gentle stretches for a minute or two every one to two hours.

In addition to preventing potential injuries, a school office can incorporate ergonomics to set a positive example for students.

Passing the final test

A key to improving ergonomics in classrooms is the adoption of height-adjustable desks and workstations, keyboard trays and articulating monitor mounts. Users can adapt them for their own personal comfort so they can achieve better posture and prevent muscle strain and fatigue.

Essential components of adjustable workstations include the ability to alternate between seated and standing positions. They should be configured to optimize the “primary front reach zone” by placing the frequently used tools (keyboard and mouse) within easy reach. Additionally, computer monitors mounted on articulating arms enable users to position them for optimal comfort.

In higher-education environments, key areas to incorporate ergonomic features are in residence halls, lounges and study areas — places where students typically spend much of their time outside the classroom. Also, as the use of laptop computers rises, docking stations in these areas are of equal importance. Docks enable students to supplement their laptop with a full-size keyboard and external mouse, and help prevent injuries caused from using laptop keyboards and pointers.

Every school will have its own set of needs and ergonomic requirements. As education institutions look to develop new study areas, classrooms, offices and public spaces, countless issues arise, such as the type of materials, durability, colors and style. By focusing on simple, flexible and easy-to-operate furniture and equipment, schools and universities can provide students and staff members with ergonomically correct solutions.

McGee is project manager for WorkRite Ergonomics, a provider of ergonomic products based in Petaluma, Calif.

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