jobs to people
jobs to people
By D. Lyn Hunter,
Kristen Shepard, a graduate student studying plant development, spends hours each day hunched over a microscope peering at seedlings, crouched under a flow hood transferring tissue samples and sitting at a computer entering data.
And while her research has increased the understanding of how plants acquire their form, the work has taken a toll on her body.
"By the time I would get home from work each day, I was in a lot of pain," said Shepard. "I knew I shouldn't be feeling like this."
A trip to Berkeley's Occupational Health Clinic confirmed her suspicions -- the muscles at the top of her spine had become contracted and inflamed due to the awkward positions her research required.
Physical therapy helped rehabilitate her, but preventative measures needed to be taken to keep this from happening again.
Enter Mallory Lynch, campus ergonomic specialist. Armed with a tape measure, camera, clipboard, an extensive knowledge of human anatomy and a sharp, analytical mind, Lynch evaluated Shepard's work site and came up with some creative solutions.
Lynch's suggestions: Set the microscope on a platform to limit the need to lean over; put armrests on either side of the scope so Shepard can rest her weight there; raise the table under the flow hood to a more comfortable height; and buy a new computer chair that tilts forward and supports Shepard's back.
Shepard implemented Lynch's recommendations and is feeling much better these days.
But Shepard's story is not unique. Poor ergonomic design -- whether in labs or computer workstations -- may be a contributor to nearly half of all injuries on campus each year, said Lynch, who works with Berkeley's Ergonomic Program, administered through University Health Services.
"Repetitive motion, unusual body postures and the use of force for extended periods of time can cause stress and injury for campus employees," said Lynch. "Anyone can be at risk, whether its an office worker typing at a computer, a custodian mopping floors, a landscaper pulling weeds or a print shop staffer stacking freshly bound catalogs."
"Our industry is very hard on the body," said Teresa Macree, supervisor for UC Printing's bindery division, which binds, folds, stitches and trims all sorts of printed material. "We have a lot of repetitive lifting and bending in this line of work."
Macree attended one of Lynch's workshops on back care and body mechanics -- another feature of the Ergonomics Program -- and learned more about improving the safety of work environments. Now, instead of bending down to stack a load of brochures, Macree's staff use special adjustable lifts that bring pallets up to waist level.
"We now have fewer injuries and less down time," said Macree. "My employees also feel better about their jobs knowing we care about their well being."
And what Lynch did for Macree and Shepard, she also has done for hundreds of other employees on campus.
For example, at Mail Service's processing plant, she advised staff on the importance of lifting mail bins off the floor to prevent back injury. The unit's safety committee purchased special racks to do just that.
And Lawrence Hall fo Science staff who are building push carts for the museum consulted Lynch for information on handle design that would avoid awkward wrist postures that could lead to injury
Lynch believes in a team effort to accomplish objectives.
"Whenever possible, I try to include the staff, managers, safety committee members and anyone else involved in the planning process for each department," said Lynch. "They are the experts at what they do and have really valuable input."
Lynch's prevention services are provided free-of-charge and she tries her best to keep costs for the purchase of equipment to a minimum.
Lynch's work focuses on preventative ergonomic evaluations in non-computer environments, post-injury worksite evaluations and training sessions for faculty and staff in safe lifting techniques on the job. Her work enhances other aspects of Berkeley's Ergonomic program which focuses on training staff to evaluate computer workstations in their home departments to ensure they are safe.
Lynch's position is part of a two-year pilot program. The temporary position was created to assess the effectiveness of having a campus ergonomics specialist.
"Because Mallory's work has been so successful," said Barbara Pottgen, Ergonomics program manager "we're hoping that we can build this level of assistance in as an ongoing part of the program."