U’s safety division wins award for equipment study

by Andrew Tellijohn

One size does not fit all, even when the item is office equipment.
The University’s Environmental Health and Safety Division has spent two years studying how to design office equipment to fit users’ individual needs.
The campus study recently won the “Award of Recognition” from the Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Division of the National Safety Council, which represents about 500 colleges and universities. The division’s main focus is to maintain and improve safe work environments for school personnel, assure fire safety for students and to control and dispose of hazardous materials in chemistry and biology laboratories.
Fay Thompson, director of the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Division, said the study began in 1994 because of a slight increase in claims of tendinitis, headaches and wrist, arm and eye strain at the University. The study cost about $226,000, and its results will be applied in the workplaces of the more than 30,000 faculty, students and staff at the University.
Most complaints came from people who spent long periods of time in front of computer screens, Thompson said. Some keyboards forced users to bend their wrists, while some computer screens were placed at angles that forced users to twist their necks.
To combat the increase in claims, the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Division began researching how computer equipment can be better adjusted to each user’s needs.
“We try to adjust the equipment to fit the user rather than make the worker adjust to poor equipment,” Thompson said. “A lot of these are actually common sense things,” she said.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most publicized result of using inadequate keyboards, Thompson said. The syndrome occurs when users’ arms and wrists are subjected to repeated strain. Many campus departments now use keyboards that are fitted with supports that allow users’ wrists to lay flat while typing.
“We decided to be proactive and to try to nip the problem in the bud before we had too many claims,” she said.
Thompson said her department is working with many other campus departments to improve existing office equipment. Many University departments are also purchasing new equipment that is modified to head off some potential physical problems, she said.