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07/28/93

CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (415) 723-2558

HIP's efforts to present 1990s workplace injuries

STANFORD -- Concerned by the nationwide spread of preventable workplace injuries, several Stanford University and Stanford Hospital departments have developed a variety of ergonomics programs tailored for the computer-using employee.

The Health Improvement Program (HIP) has led the development efforts in response to growing concern about cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) and other physical problems resulting from increased computer use.

Nationwide, the problem has become so severe that the Department of Labor has called computer-related injuries the "occupational hazard of the 1990s."

Constrained posture and repetitive movements typical of computer use can cause or worsen neck, back, and vision problems, as well as the more publicized wrist and hand disorders, such as "mouse elbow" and carpal tunnel syndrome. Circulatory problems also can be aggravated by poor posture and inappropriate equipment, such as too-tall chairs, said Larry Gibbs, director of Stanford's department of Environmental Health and Safety.

The multidisciplinary science of ergonomics, the "study of work," can provide solutions to many computer-related physical problems. Ergonomics examines the interrelationship of equipment and human performance, focusing on appropriate equipment, placement, and utilization to prevent injuries.

"The relationship of the body to the work environment is very important," Gibbs said. "If people understand ergonomics, it's not difficult to achieve the proper work habits. Their work can be done better without personal injury."

Seminar is centerpiece of education effort

HIP, a unit of the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention, has worked in cooperation with campus offices such as EH&S, Risk Management and the Stanford Hand Clinic to develop the programs. The centerpiece is a one-hour overview seminar, "Office Ergonomics," made available to any university or hospital department, or any group of eight or more people.

Participants learn about the basic principles of office ergonomics, such as devices that are available to improve office comfort, and the benefits of work breaks and stretching exercises.

The seminar was developed in early 1991 by Terrie Heinrich Rizzo, HIP Coordinator of Health Education Programs. To date, the seminar has been presented to over 125 departments and groups, educating a total of more than 1,500 employees.

According to Rizzo, a follow-up survey of 160 participants from 1991 shows the programs have had a significant impact on the comfort and health of the participants.

Of the 160 respondents, 99 percent ranked the seminar as having been "valuable" or "extremely valuable." Seventy-two percent reported making changes in equipment or equipment placement, and 68 percent reported changes in personal behavior.

"Most significantly," said Rizzo, "among the 160 respondents, there have been no new injuries reported after a full one-year period. This indicates that knowledge of ergonomics is very important in helping prevent injuries and that seminar participants do use the knowledge to reduce their personal risks."

To reinforce the information presented at the ergonomics seminars, HIP recently started offering follow-up on-site departmental evaluations.

"This makes effective use of our limited resources and helps whole departments become knowledgeable about and apply good office ergonomics," said Dr. Wes Alles, director of the Health Improvement Program. "We find many groups are able to make significant positive changes on their own."

For individuals, HIP offers the ergonomics seminars through its regular quarterly calendar of classes. Also, HIP is testing an interactive computer program called ErgoSmart, which deals with proper set-up and use of video display terminals. (IBM computer users have access to the program, which is currently experiencing some technical difficulties; easier access is expected by September, Rizzo said.)

Available work aids

Central Stores has joined the ergonomics effort by expanding its line of equipment to include a variety of adjustable equipment and aids. These include chairs, desks, keyboards, wrist rests, document holders, footrests, lumbar supports, screen filters, telephone neckrests and other items.

All are available through the electronic SNAP Stores Catalog, using the search keyword "HIP."

"We want to make it convenient for Stanford employees to get the ergonomics equipment they need, and we thought it would be easy for people to remember 'HIP' when they are ordering," said Jane Williams, procurement marketing manager.

To address overall campus ergonomic issues, two committees have been formed in the past 18 months. The CTD Committee, composed of representatives from HIP, EH&S, Risk Management, the Hand Clinic and Hospital Personnel Services, will attempt to meet campus needs proactively, so that workers have access to information and equipment when they need it, not after a problem has begun to develop.

Additionally, the CTD support group, led by Kathy Kermit of the Office of Development, provides a monthly forum for information-sharing and articulating employee concerns.

As a final component, Rizzo recently developed a special handout for computer users, "Don't Be a Computer Victim." It is sent to all new university employees; others can request one by writing to HIP/Computer, Mail Code 0146.

"Many computer-related injuries actually can be prevented if people know what to do," Rizzo said. "In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a point of cure. Everyone who uses a computer should learn about ergonomics and take action now, before problems develop."

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