Carrie Schmitz, Office Ergonomics Consultant & Engineering Publications Manager @ Ergotron
You can’t blame the ergonomists. They warned us for decades that this might happen.
They conducted their research; graphed their data; presented detailed diagrams showing degrees of rotation, inclination, pronation and extension. They gave us recommendations about how long we should sit before moving, how long to move before resting and how to use the core of our body to reduce strain. They expounded on the benefits of standing and preached moderation in all things. But did we look, did we listen?
I wonder: where are the ergonomists now? Without us, could they have survived? Strange, how once we believed they lived for us – for they seemed to have only our best interest in mind. At some point when they realized that they could never help us if we weren’t willing to help ourselves, they simply faded away. Did they perish with the onslaught or are they with us still? How would we know? Would I recognize one?
Maybe it was an ergonomist I saw dart into the alley the other night. My office mates and I were shuffling home in the dripping dark after the usual 16 hour shift, our hands holding the shoulders of the workers in front and our blurry, strained eyes closed shut to avoid the glare of the street lights above us. We didn’t need to see where we were going, since we traveled as a human chain, sliding our feet forward in unison, guided by the threat of punishment if we stepped out of line.
That day had been different: due to a slight irritation in my right eye, I had kept it shut while gazing at the communication display that hangs 4 inches above and about 12 inches away from my face. Since my left eye was unfairly strained that day, I kept it shut all the way back to the barracks, allowing my right eye to open. Surprisingly, the vision in my right eye seemed much restored, so I rotated the orb about, giving the muscle some exercise, when suddenly a flash of color registered in the corner of my eye. Was it color? It must have been, for I am sure it wasn’t any of the many shades of grey that constitute the scenery of this industrialized world we now occupy.
This uncommon vision startled me, but I could not call out. Working with my head tipped back for so many hours, days, weeks, months and years has so stretched and distorted the muscles that produce speech, as to render me mute.
Now I’m glad I couldn’t say anything to my office mates. I need time. Perhaps I’ll see the colorful flash again some night. I am older than most, and I can still recall some of the ergonomists’ wisdom. Tomorrow I will try to move a bit within the 4 foot cell of my workstation. Though I can’t change the hours of my work, I will rest my eyes on a strict rotation, and will take deep breaths to refresh and relax myself. I won’t say “no” to water when it is available and I will keep my eyes open on the way home in case there is anything there to be observed.
If I see the ergonomist in the alley again, I will stretch my mouth muscles into a smile – a smile. Maybe the ergonomist will see and have hope, and tell the other ergonomists (oh let there be others), that there is still one worker left to care about.
I will summon the courage to pull my display down and push it back. One day I may regain my voice and I can tell my fellow workers to do the same.
Yes, I am sure it was an ergonomist that I saw in the alley, but if it was not, no matter, for I can become an ergonomist for myself, and for my colleagues I will be a model. We will work together for a better world, and we will smile.