All medical advice in this article is based on personal experience and is for educational purposes only. We are not medical experts; we are business consultants and software developers. Always seek the guidance of a qualified trusted health professional with any health concerns you may have.
The greatest wealth is health
Health is the most important thing we have. Without health, everything else suffers. That is why it is vital to ensure the work required to run your business is safe for everyone.
There is a concerning high number of varying occupational hazards. Some that many of us are not aware of can cause health issues over time. This could be a repetitive strain injury (RSI) or a form of occupational overuse syndrome (OOS). Unfortunately and widely unknowingly, computer overuse can lead to chronic pain and disability with detrimental consequences on all aspects of life.
This article focuses on what I have personally learned from developing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis as a consequence of years of excessive fine repetitive movements and static posture from previous intensive computer-based work, and how you can minimise the likelihood of this happening to you and your employees in your business.
How can I minimise the risk of an overuse injury in my business?
Everyone needs frequent health checkups, even if you have no concerns. Most of us know to get regular blood tests and to take care of our teeth, but what about our musculoskeletal system? If you have worked primarily at a desk for a number of years there is a good chance your musculoskeletal system has started to adapt and may be starting to show signs of strain or fatigue, even if you aren’t noticing any symptoms. Seek advice from a trusted physiotherapist or other suitable health professional knowledgeable in this area. The earlier you take action, the easier it will be long-term.
Promote the importance of health in your business. Allow yourself and your employees time off to attend medical appointments and for follow-up procedures, including physio exercises. Not doing so could cost you and your business far more!
A far too common mistake is to adapt your body to the desk, putting your body in an even more unnatural position, adding extra strain to your already compromised body. It is far better for your health and productivity to change your workspace as much as you can to fit your body. This of course applies to your employees as well.
A quick Google search of desk ergonomics is a good starting point. A qualified ergonomics or physiotherapist can assess your desk set up and help optimise your workspace, to make it safer. This will also increase efficiency and productivity.
Generally laptops are not suitable for prolonged use. Laptop use requires straining your neck in an unnatural angle which can, quite literally, cause a pain in the neck. Try to use a separate monitor placed in front of you. It is better for your posture and will help alleviate neck strain.
Desk and Chair
It is important to ensure that there is enough room on your desk to work; that you are not cramped in. A sit/stand desk is worthwhile, as it allows you to change your position as you work (more on this below). An electric sit/stand desk is far easier to use than a manual one.
Choose a chair that supports your spine and is adjustable. An ergonomist can help adjust your desk and chair to suit your body.
Mouse and Keyboard
Where possible try to use the keyboard more than your mouse. Typing is easier on our bodies than using a mouse. It is worth the time investment in learning keyboard shortcuts and ensuring you can use them in your business software (we can help).
The standard computer keyboard and mouse, despite common misconceptions, does not suit everyone, and may even contribute towards a repetitive strain injury. Keyboards can be too wide or too narrow, straining the shoulders. Hand size can be a factor in using a computer mouse. There is a range of keyboards and computer mice that may be more comfortable than what you are already using. Unfortunately, there may be some costly trial and error as you find the right equipment, however, the long-term cost of using an ill-fitted mouse and/or keyboard is far greater.
There is voice-activated software that can take the stress off your hands. This can help alleviate symptoms of RSI or may even make computer use more accessible to you.
There is currently a free feature in Microsoft Office 365 that allows speech to text. For long-term use, there is also relatively affordable voice dictation software. I personally use Dragon NaturallySpeaking. You will need a decent noise-cancelling microphone, especially in a noisy open-planned office. Be careful that you don’t get a voice overuse injury though!
Everybody is different so it is important to make everyone’s workspaces adapt to them as much as possible. In addition, an open attitude towards individual ergonomics will make it easier for everyone, and remember the upfront costs will be far less than the potential cost to health, and ultimately your business. No one should feel alienated for needing different equipment to help them work; this hinders everyone.
Having the ideal desk set up does not make up for the prolonged static posture required for computer work. It is most important to allow movement throughout your day so that you’re not stuck in the same forward posture all day. Try to get up and move around for a few minutes at least once an hour, preferably every 20 to 30 minutes if you can. Think of different ways you and your staff can perform work activities, this might be a stand-up or walking meeting (if this is an accessible option for everyone) or even just a proactive discussion. Writing on a board or on paper is a different motion from typing, and may even be more efficient than using a computer for formulating ideas or planning (we use a form of Kanban). Ideas can often come to us away from the desk too!
Lunchtime exercise will help break up static postures too. Working long hours consistently is not good for anyone and can increase the risk of developing an overuse injury as well as a number of other health issues.
The usability and ergonomic design of the software you and your staff use in your business matters greatly. Not only could poorly-design software hinder your business, it can also greatly increase the risk of developing a repetitive strain injury or aggravate an existing injury.
A common problem in software is the excessive mouse use required to use it. This could be from having to click many times to enter a single data point or from dragging the mouse to zoom or even view the entire program. As well as being tedious, the accumulation of these fine movements can hurt your hands, arms and shoulders, and if left untreated, can lead to permanent damage. Sifting through multiple systems or hundreds of Excel spreadsheets can take its toll too, timewise and healthwise.
To identify user-friendly software look for these qualities:
- Straight-forward to use.
- Supports a variety of input methods, including keyboard shortcuts and ideally works with voice-recognition software.
- Integrates with other software to reduce data entry and copying and pasting.
- Shouldn’t be painful to use!
Here at Loop Foundry, we can help improve or custom build software not only for your business but for you and your employees.
For more information on managing RSI and real-life stories from people with RSI check out the RSI and Overuse Injury Association of the ACT.
For tips on working remotely from home, see our recent blog post.