Aches and Pains, Pulls and Strains

On April 16, Campus's First Computer Ergonomics Fair Could Ease What's Ailing You

by Cathy Cockrell

Do your hands, arms, eyes, neck, shoulders or back ever hurt from computer use? Are you concerned that they might hurt in the future?

If your answer to either of these questions is yes, put the campus' first Computer Ergonomics Fair, Wednesday, April 16, on your agenda. Campus ergonomics resources will be showcased from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Alumni House, with workshops, hands-on demonstrations and expert panels on how to avoid repetitive strain injuries, eyestrain and back problems at your computer workstation.

"There's no silver bullet that's the one solution to an ergonomic problem," says Barbara Pottgen, health educator at University Health Services and chair of the Campus Ergonomics Task Force. "A problem may call for workstation modification, but also for changes in work habits and lifestyle."

In line with this philosophy, the fair will highlight ergonomic furniture and accessories as well as self-care techniques.

Cosponsors are Health*Matters, Campus Supply and the Campus Ergonomics Task Force, which is a group of representatives from across campus that works to evaluate injury trends, coordinate ergonomic services and promote prevention activities for reducing injuries.

The ergonomics fair is one component of a broad effort to reduce computer related injuries among the campus community. Paralleling national statistics, significant increases in the number of computer related repetitive strain injuries were noted on campus in the early 1990s.

By 1994, an estimated 17,000 video display terminals were in use on campus and the number of injuries related to their use continued to mount, reaching a high in 1995 when they accounted for 20 percent of all reported workers' compensation claims.

In 1994, the campus adopted a set of health and safety guidelines, developed by University Health Services, for video display terminals.

"We expected reported injuries to increase initially when the guidelines were issued, due to increased awareness," says Pottgen.

While injuries did increase in 1995, there was an 11 percent decline in reported injuries in 1996. The average number of days lost from work decreased by one day per claim, indicating that injured employees are reporting for treatment earlier, when it is easier to resolve problems.

"We hope," says Pottgen, "that this is a beginning of a trend toward decreasing injury rates, tied to improvement of workstation ergonomics and healthier work habits."

Her own efforts to prevent injuries include training employees about ergonomic issues. In six years she has trained 2,000 individuals from more than 100 campus departments. About 200 of those serve as workstation evaluators, who help identify potential ergonomic problems in their departments.

Pottgen notes that repetitive strain health issues, once mainly experienced by staff, are now becoming an issue for students, particularly graduate students.

"Many use laptops, which are a real problem from an ergonomic point of view. People are wowed by the technology without thinking of the impact on the body."

The Computer Ergonomics Fair will include vision tests; hands-on keyboard shortcuts that can serve as alternatives to mouse use; a lunch-time roundtable featuring an array of health professionals; and presentations on alternative mouse/pointing devices and taking care of your hands at home and at work.

Visitors can also enter a drawing to win ergonomic prizes, including an ergonomic chair donated by Campus Supply.

To promote campus health and safety, Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell is encouraging supervisors to grant up to an hour of release time for staff interested in attending.

Departments that need to modify workstations on a tight budget can take advantage of a loan program that allows them to borrow money interest-free to upgrade poorly designed workstations and pay the loan off over three years. Contact Barbara Pottgen at 642-8410 or for information.


Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail