The Ergonomic Evolution Weekly is out! p

August 23, 2013 Leave a comment

The Ergonomic Evolution Weekly is out!… ▸ Top stories today via @SpineHealth @OccHealthSafety @ErgoPlus

Categories: Ergonomics

New Desk Conversion Product Makes Existing Desks into Standing Desks, A Success Story

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

header - table raiserEmployee complaints from sitting too long were a common refrain for Scott I., Facilities Manager. Standing workstations were becoming a common request at global technology & communication firms whose employees work at a desk all day. Scott was concerned about cost, storage and adaptation but hadn’t seen a good solution that was both budget-conscious and easy to adopt on a large scale.

Adaptive Workstations Cost Companies Too Much

Scott knew there were desks that that could be adjusted up and down so staff could choose whether to sit or stand while they worked – but the cost was prohibitive and he’d also heard that few employees properly adapted to these mechanisms, and used them at regular desk height anyway. Knowing this wouldn’t be acceptable to management Scott looked for a more practical answer and turned to SitStand for a product demonstration.

The SitStand products immediately resolved all of Scott’s worries. They easily lifted the existing desks to create standing workstations, took up little extra space, was easy to adapt to, and the price was right. Scott took this simple solution to his manager and made a purchase order.

Affordable, Compact Desk Attachment Resolves Complaints

Unlike expensive mobile “up and down” mechanisms, the SitStand accessories are easy to transport, and semi-permanently raises existing desks with no damage – meaning offices can maintain their existing look and style. Each device was fitted to suit the needs of the employee, took up no extra space and did not create a need for extra storage. Most importantly, employees quickly adapted to the raised workstations because their existing desk surfaces and organization remained intact. As more employees requested the product to be installed, Scott could easily accommodate them without blowing the budget thereby satisfying the demands of the staff and his Manager’s preference for an economical solution to this common workplace complaint.

Companies Keep Costs Down, Morale Up

Scott cited that the number one benefit of the SitStand product is its effectiveness for users, increasing employee comfort and moral and reducing downtime thereby increasing productivity. Scott was thrilled to implement an effective solution for employees at an acceptable price. “The results were incredible: The people who use the system are happy with it. They stay noticeably longer at their desks, and they don’t complain about discomfort.”

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This low-cost, efficient, and easy to implement solution was exactly what the company needed. After reviewing several impractical and pricey options, SitStand emerged as the clear winner: “the choice was easy for us. The office is absolutely fascinated with the simplicity and effectiveness of this system.”

For more information, please visit us at:  Or call us at: 1-888-937-5222

Why eye doctors may soon prescribe Tetris

April 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Why eye doctors may soon prescribe Tetris

Researchers at McGill University say the video game distributes information between the eyes in a way that trains them to work together and could ultimately help treat lazy eye.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore

 April 22, 2013 11:44 AM PDT

Study participants with lazy eye were forced to play Tetris for weeks, but reported vast improvements in their condition.

(Credit: McGill University)

For the roughly three percent of the population that suffers from amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” the best current treatment option — covering the stronger eye to force the weaker one into better behavior — works only some of the time in kids and has been totally ineffective in adults.

Now researchers out of McGill University in Montreal say that playing Tetris may ultimately treat the disorder in adults because the puzzle video game trains the eyes to work together as information is distributed across them in a complementary fashion.

“The key to improving vision for adults, who currently have no other treatment options, was to set up conditions that would enable the two eyes to cooperate for the first time in a given task,” Dr. Robert Hess, senior author of the paper published this week in the journal Current Biology, said in a school news release.

Amblyopia is caused by poor processing in the brain that leads to the dominant eye suppressing functioning of the weaker one. By connecting differently shaped blocks as they fall in Tetris, the eyes are forced — perhaps even enjoyably so — into cooperation, alleviating suppression of the weaker eye and retraining the brain to use both equally.

Researchers tested 18 adults with amblyopia, nine of whom played Tetris with the stronger eye patched and nine of whom played it dichoptically, using head-mounted video goggles that allowed one eye to see only the falling objects and the other to see only the ground objects. Two weeks later the group using both eyes showed dramatic improvement in the vision of the weaker eye and even in perception of 3D images, while the group with the patch showed only moderate improvement. Then, when the patch was removed, that group ultimately caught up with their goggle-playing forebears.

The team plans to test this approach in children later this year in a clinical trial that spans North America.


Categories: Ergonomics

Colorado adults are the least obese in the U.S.

September 18, 2012 2 comments

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled a survey today reporting obesity rates in the United States. On average, more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese. Colorado again ranked as the least obese state, with a 20.7% obesity rate among adults.

Colorado’s neighbors were less obese than much of the country, as well. The Western U.S. region had the lowest average obesity prevalence, at 24.3%.

It is tempting to look back to prior years to see weight trends in our state. However, the CDC has made changes to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to include cellular phone users and to improve its method of statistical weighting. This means that any previous years’ percentages are not comparable to this year’s findings. Regardless, the CDC points out that one thing is clear: “State prevalence of obesity remained high across the country in 2011.”

It is also important to realize that these numbers are based on a survey which asked adult respondents to self-identify, meaning that these percentages are merely estimates of the current obesity rate.

Even as the least obese state in the nation, Colorado has a lot of work to do. According to the 2011 Colorado Health Report Card, Colorado ranks 23rd in the nation in the proportion of children who are obese. At this rate, our state will not remain the “leanest” for long.

Finally, a 20.7% obesity rate is still worrisome. The CDC reports that:

  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
  • In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

Source: CDC

Categories: Ergonomics Tags: ,

Review of the best ergonomic chairs.

December 17, 2011 3 comments


I did this review during 3 years of extensive testing of ergonomic chairs for work, my idea is to examine what kind of alternatives are available for reducing backache and the contractures that often occur in sedentary jobs: office chairs more comfortable and economical, ergonomic Varier chairs (ex stokke) expensive, or other options?

Computer Work Seats: the 2 correct postures

correct postures for work at computer
Above you can see both of the correct positions you should have when sitting at a computer. In the first case we can see a standard static position: the pelvis is at 90° and the back is parallel to the monitor and perpendicular to the keyboard. In the second example we can see the dynamic position of an ergonomic seat that shows the more than 100° angle between hips and legs with a pivoting seat and support for the lumbar region and knees.  Besides postural problems during office working hours or at a VDU, there are also postural problems caused by rigidity and tension characteristic of occupational or emotional stress.
Articular rigidity becomes combined with a series of uncorrect postures and improvised gymnastics to give temporary relief to the effects of the rigidity we accumulate all year round. These three primary factors (rigidity, misaligned posture and improvised gymnastics), can lead to critical situations for both the back and articulations, leading to the need for rehabilitation specialists or help from a professional masseur (physiotherapy, rehabilitation massage such as Rolfing or gymnastics like Pilates followed by a therapist).
Note for those that wish to gift a posture chair for Christmas: make sure you ask them first if they’ve ever tried one!

How to choose the correct ergonomic chair

To the article on how to choose the ergonomic chair that best suits your needs, in some cases the cheaper brands are not worth it.

Improvised gymnastics

With improvised gymnastics it is intended the whole series of movements that we voluntarily start using and that little by little become part of our habitual movements: finger cracking, neck cracking, suddenly turning backwards, eye rubbing, disharmonic shoulder stretching etc. Looking for immediate relief for contractures stratified through years of sedentary work is one of the main reasons we start doing improvised gymnastics. Even though making these series of movements every day may seem to temporarily resolve stress and tension, in fact we are causing them by stratifying more unnatural movements (here can be found the study of body and movement from which these observations have been taken. Be careful not to confuse instinctive yawning or stretching (when not done following a conscious thought), they’re very positive for the body, giving instant relaxation.

The function of breathing

It may seem incredible but any tension can dissolve with a deep breath. Any external support we offer our body, including ergonomic seats, can be no more that a palliative treatment compared to the effects of physical, emotional or psychic training that all have correct breathing as a basic requirement.


Problems of constipation can be relieved with a correct ergonomic posture. La position of the spine properly aligned between shoulders and pelvis provides the intestines with the right position for normal fecal flow. Obviously this is the case when the constipation is caused by postural problems and not uncorrect eating habits, stress from hectic lifestyle etc. In these cases no chair will be of help. In my own case however, during the first month of use of my, kneeling chair I noticed an increase in the need to go to the bathroom, especially in the morning.

external supports ( POSTURAL seats and kneeling chairs)

Practically all the projects that you’ll see in the following reviews come from the immense work of the designer Peter Opsvik. Every chair studied for those that work in front of a computer all day have pros (for example the possibility to change position by kneeling), and cons (some chairs need some ‘’running in’’ time to get used to the strange seating method). Here are various solutions of normal chairs and ergonomical office seats.

Office chair with arm rests and and casters


cost: 60 – 100 Euro (can be found much cheaper at Ikea or at Euroffice)
size: reasonable

This is a very normal office chair with casters… the most economical solution ( they are sometimes called operative chairs). In order to use this classic typing seat with casters and arms it’s necessary to regulate perfectly the chair hight in order to achieve a 90° angle between legs and back (which should be vertical and slightly leaning back). It’s also useful to have a well toned body, as is standing up often and walking around the office, getting some coffee. The fact is, after ten years or so we will end up giving all the money we didn’t invest in a chair to a physiotherapist who will try to get rid of the pain caused by the bad posture we’ve had for years.
In this case it’s possible to find triangular footrests (here are some economical footrests), often in plastic, that are no more than wedge shaped platforms. They can be combined with this kind of office chairs to slightly alleviate the burden of tension that accumulates in the higher part of the back.

How to choose a traditional office chair

This kind of common office chair has no particular design so you might as well get a cheap one. Some aspects to consider are:

  • The possibility to regulate in hight (useful to adapt the chair to any workspace without having to use platforms
  • The possibility to incline the chair downwards in the front part
  • The possibility to incline downwards the front of the chair is an important adjustment.

Inclining the seat has the scope of enlarging the angle between pelvis and back, an action that counterbalances the tendency many have to “stoop forward” while working at a desk. The position resembles the one used with Stokke type kneeling chairs. It’s also important to remember that too much comfort in an intensively used
working seat can be an impediment.

Note on abdominal breathing

It must be mentioned that if the need for an ergonomical chair derives from the tension caused by working many hours in the same position, it can also be useful being aware of the kind of breathing we use while working. Insufficient abdominal breathing may cause the pelvis to contract upon itself, leading to the conseguent
eccesive curving forward of the shoulders.
Taking a 5 minute break every 2 or 3 hours to breath with your abdomen is also a good way to relax your spinal column (warning… if you smoke it may not work very well).

Surreal Ergonomic Projects For Videogame Racing Simulations

price: unrealistic

This is a project for a space simulation seat that’s so absurd I’m putting it here
just for fun. Designer’s folly 1 – rest of the world zero.

Kneeling chairs


Model: Metal stool with knee rests and stool with knee rest on casters
price: around 80 euro (catalogue Misco e Viking)
Model: ergonomic stool in Cinius wood
price: around 100 euro (catalogue Cinius)
models of artisan made ergonomic chairs (Vispa chair style): 200/250 Euro
Model: kneeling chair
price: importation USA, around 50 euro with good exchange.
size: good for small offices
This is an ergonomic office chair similar to a stool with knee (or leg) support. This kind of stool has casters and allows full movement of feet and ankles… so you can roll and lol around while still sitting! According to my tests, the use of these kneeling stools can reduce the need for interruptions up to 20% compared to a normal chair, but it will however still be necessary to get up and move every so often. While having the benefit of being extremely economical, this kind of stool, although called ergonomic, doesn’t resolve problems tied to backache (often caused by prolonged static positions), and need a phase of ‘training’ because at first they seem pretty uncomfortable. It must also be noted that they are deliberately without arm rests (in a correct position, the arms should lie along the sides of the body, and the shoulders relax when the position of the keyboard is just above the level of the hips). Tha absence of a backrest will be felt after a few of the many hours we pass at the monitor. These models of chairs for desks with kneerests are an economical alternative and very similar to the pointlessly expensive Varier Multi Balans, and even though they’re often called orthopaedic stools, they don’t really have much to do with the concept of orthopaedia.

Ergonomic Aeron Chairs


Model: Aeron office chair
price: from 800 Euro
where to buy: USA shop, ventilated versions (low cost), equivalent versions Hag
size: more bulky than a standard chair
This is an Aeron chair(designer Herman Miller) with backrest and seat in mesh. It’s a kind of office chair with an elastica backrest that allows the back a larger surface without sweating or pressing on the same spots. The Aeron office chair was designed to not havr any rigid parts in contact with the body that could influence posture. The seat is adjustable and can be inclined forwards to increase the angle between back and legs. Having the pelvis with a vertical aperture larger than 90° can be useful to prevent lordosis. However it’s too comfortable an office chair to use for long periods because the mobility of hips and legs is the only way to avoid damage from too much immobility.

Review ergonomic swivel stool Grima Twinny


price: 460 euro circa (ebay shop)
size: small
The ergonomic seat Twinny is a strange hybrid that offers an economical alternative to the expensive Varier Wing stool. It offers backrest and kneerest, plus the possibility to regulate in hight (it fits all sizes of desks). Although the casters tend to make you lose balance while using the kneerest, you soon get used to it.
In my opinion, the Grima Twinny ergonomic chair’s main flaw is it’s size, along with the fact that it doesn’t allow complete hip movement. On the positive side, it has a well inclined seat, with the lumbar support that adapts well and sustains. It’s surely a good project, with many interesting characteristics, but the price is high for the type of materials used and the typology of chair (maybe forced by the scarce number of copies in circulation?)

Varier Variable Ergo Stool (ex Stokke)


Model: Stokke Ergonomic Chair Variable Balans by Varier
price: around 300 Euro (new) available in Stokke ergonomic chair shop
cost Backrest (optional): around 150 Euro.
On offer: Stokke Variable is on offer in the shop Ausilium at 290
Euro (second hand ones can be found slightly cheaper on eBay)

size: more bulky than a normal chair (needs room behind for swinging)
Varier chairs are comfortable and especially versatile. This is an ergonomic Stokke Variable studio seat in wood with kneerest, costs around 300€ and has a 20year old design (Opsvik again). It’s pretty cumbersome for any small office but among the office chairs that help back problems it’s one of the best solutions because it has a tilt back mecchanism (like a granny’s rocking chair). The two runners in vapour pressed wood offer suspensions that make the seat ergonomicalelastic whan you sit on it. The arch at the base doesn’t allow you to remain still, you find yourself rocking all day: this means constant movement of the pelvis and movements of the superior articulations that allow to restore balance whan relaxing. The two knee stools are for alternating the kind of seating (standard, and kneeling as in praying).
With this chair it’s possible to reduce pauses during work of 40%-50% without evident pain or imbalance. A period of adaption of about fifteen days is necessary, during which time you find yourself wondering about life and the sense of things. The lack of a backrest lowers (mysteriously) the cost of the Stokke Variable on the catalogue “office chairs” up to 50% compared to a Stokke Thatsit. It’s also possible to buy the backrest separately to assemble in a further moment.
Although the Stokke Variable is a postural computer chair where you rest on the knees, it’s also possible using it as a “normal” chair opening the legs to avoid the nearest. Changing to the classic seating on an ergonomic chair is a way to move now and then during the hours working or studying, but it’s a habit we should try to get used to because using the ‘’praying position’’ it’s easy to lose the necessity for normal seating.

Note on the size of the Varier Variable

We have tried the Varier in the whole office and Thomas who is 1.85cm tall fits to the limit. The Variable is certainly not suitable for anyone over 1.90cm (he wouldn’t know where to put his feet). For my hight (1.70), the Varier is a perfect ergonomic solution and should be fine for people up to 1.50cm. Shorter personswould have problems because the Varier doesn’t have adjustable knee rests and the distance between the seat and the supports is fixed. In order to use this Stokke as an ergonomic computer chair it’s necessary to own a desk that is hight adjustable, because in a correct posture your arms should lie alongside the bodywithout bringing tension to the shoulders; of all the computer chairs examined, the Variable Varier is the one with the best value for money. This Stokke chair is the only one I have found cheap imitations for. The Stokke patent and the wood vapour bending tecnique used for the lower runners make all Stokke products difficult to copy.

Imitation Stokke Varier Balans ergo chairs

available prior to importation from America the YogaChair, very similar to the Stokke Varier both in size and weight. Seeing as the ergonomic YogaChair is a non ufficial replica, it costs a lot less: 99 dollars (to which have to be added the shipment costs of 50/80€ and the customs clearance of another 50/100euro). We contacted the YogaChair firm about importation to Europe of their office chairs but they don’t ship to Europe (probably for patent problems), but only to Switzerland.

Ergonomic Chair Stokke Varier Thatsit


Model: Ergonomic Chair Stokke Thatsit Varier
size: fairly bulky
price: and where to find it:

  • around 880 Euro (nuova italia) here is the cheapest shop I could find in Italy for the Stokke-Varier Thatsit
  • 400/550€ (used Stokke ebay auction + shipment)

This is the ergonomic chair Thatsit Balans by Varier, which is basically the evolution of the ergonomic seat Oposit (a Stokke Variable with backrest) and it includes the lumber support (or kidney friend) which just happens to be my favourite of all the seats for correct posture. After having tried so many, I think that the Variable model by Stokke is the best computer seat for intensive work (practically it’s the only real ergonomic computer chair and has three strong points:

  • rocking chair’s curved runners
  • knee stool
  • backrest

practically 4 different kinds of seating, constant movement, relax for shoulders. Around 15 days are needed for this chair too, after which the pauses at work will reduce to around 60%-70%. Unfortunately it’s not easy to find at a reasonable price. At the end of the trials in the office, Stokke Thatsit was considered by everyone the best postural ergonomic chair with backrest in circulation, besides being an ergonomic chair with certification VDU (certification for visual display unit). This model of ergonomic chair offers the most complete help to posture offering both alignment of the pelvis and the lumbar support to keep the spine straight. Backrest and knee rests are padded and comfortable (I find them ideal for intensive computer work). After various months of testing the Stokke Thatsit Varier I noticed with pleasure that when I’m on a normal seat I still keep the correct acquired position. This was my first ergonomic chair and I must say that it did my back good, especially in the periods of intense use. Note on the stature needed for optimal chair use The Thatsit has adjustable knee rests and also the lumbar support can be moved back and forward. This allows an ergonomically correct seating to people of every hight (Andrea is 1,92 and he was fine with it). I’m using a Stokke Thatsit since 2006 (that I preferred to the Variable for the presence of the backrest, and every so often I use different measurements for the knees according to how straight I want my back to be, I’m 1,70) and I still think it’s one of the best kind of chairs for bad backs.

Note on studies about spinal deformity

Due of note is the fact that Stokke in 1996 during the International Congress of Spinal Deformity presented a study on the prevention of scoliosis throught the use of ergonomic chairs with special seats that has resulted in decisive improvements in over 50% of the cases examined (here you can download the complete study with referral to the congress ).

Note for trasport: this model of Stokke has been carried in my small ultility car (I have a city car) the only removable parts are the kneerests. In order to understand the size and the kind of seating offered, here is a list of the authorized Stokke shops where it’s possible to try them. This is the old model of Stokke Oposit ergonomic chair that I have.

Balt Chair for spinal alignment


price: around 400 euro (imported, qui le economic and ventilated versions)
size: cumbersome
This is a Balt Spine Align chair, it has an ergonomic BIFMA certification (that is given by producers and not medical or orthopaedic institutions) and we considered it in the review because it is actually an office chair. This Balt model office chair offers a particular support for the neck, has hight adjustment and little more. (it doesn’t have the variable inclination that the model Aeron has). Balt Spine Align takes it’s name from a central groove (visible in this photo) on the backrest, that leaves space for the backbone and should avoid nerve compression on the vertebra. What’s more, the Balt offers an unreachable dentist chair feeling. Considering the cost for the quality offered (quite comfortable but static large seat), I would say it’s not worth it.

Stokke Gravity Varier Balancing Chair of my dreams



Model: Stokke Gravity Balans Chair
price: obscene e prohibitive (over 1300 euro: shop Stokke)
size: huge (it’s seriously very big and cumbersome once assembled)
Here we have a Stokke Gravity, the most expensive and versatile ergonomic chair on the Stokke catalogue. Besides being over the top it allows you to tip it right back, it needs a lot of space and for a graphic or web designer it’s not humanly possible buying it without taking out a mortgage. This is the chair that the review is intitled to, because when I have the money and an office as big as a NASA hangar, I will definitely buy it for myself. The reclined position of the Stokke Gravity is more comfortable than any sofa in circulation and recalls the kind of seating offered by the Chaise Lounge by Le Corbusier. Note for transport: the Stokke Gravity is assembled, so it’s easy to take it apart to fit in a medium size car boot.

Ergo Hag Capisco Chair Review


Model: Ergo Hag Capisco Chair
price: 1100/1400 euro
400-600 euro imported (at the moment the official site HAG UK has disabled
price visualization for Europe)
size: bigger than a standard chair
I do understand that the Capisco designers aren’t guilty for the choice of the chair name (it means ‘understand’ in Italian), but it can bring about some funny misunderstandings. In the same price range of the della Stokke Gravity there is the Ergonomic chair Hag, model Capisco. Decidedly less bulky than the Gravity, the Capisco has an approach to ergonomics totally opposite to the Stokke Variable chairs. This Hag chair model allows various types of posture, some quite creative with the chair back to front and the backrest used to rest on leaning forward.
The fact of not having a unique sitting method makes the Hag chair a dynamic posture seat and adaptable to our every need. (watch the video on the ufficial HAG site ). I must precise that not always comfort is equivalent to a correct posture, because too much comfort always brings the risk of static positions, or even worse, static positions stratifying over time. In the Hag chair, the angle of the hips between back and seat is enlarged to about 100° having the legs pass in two grooves similar to that of a motorbiker (and in fact Opsvik was inspired by the posture of jockeys during a horse race). The inclination of the horizontal support can be increased at will and it’s almost possible to reach the the same angulation as a Stokke chair.
The Hag Capisco chair has also got a neck support and an interesting version of the supports for shoulders and arms that can be used when the chair is used back to front or sideways. The movement of trunk and lateral abdominals is guaranteed using leverage with the feet while leaning on the footring supports on casters that make the chair spin on it’s vertical axis. The HAG chairs have hight regulation, so allowing their use with all standard office desks and work tables.

Pendulum and Actulum Review


Model: ergo Varier Actulum reception chair
price: about 650 euro
size: standard
The ergonomic chair Actulum has the single merit of having limited rocking, that allows hip mobility and the dynamic position we have already described in the “how to choose an ergonomic chair” section. TheActulum’s construction form makes it ideal for reception work (hotels, client assistance and help desks) bacause it allows you to stand up very easily like a normal chair but it’s also comfortable for many hours of seated work. During the review, we noted that it needed a small period of adaptation compared to the ergonomic Varier chairs with curved runners . Unfortunately it’s not adjustable, so in this case too you’ll have to make sure the work top hight is variable or at least not too high. For particularly high help desks or assistance booths the solution could be the extremely expensive Hag Capisco, that costs more than double than the Actulum and has hight adjustment. Seeing as the shape is not so strange or different to traditional chairs, the Actulum seats are also suitable as dinner table or living room chairs.

Model stroller ergo Stokke Xplory


price: about 750 euro
positive points: higher than normal stroller, more secure, resistant materials and adjustable by age
negative: above average price.
I received an eccellent review of the Stokke strollers from Francesco, who spent a few months looking for a secure solution for his future child while he was waiting to become a father. Living in the city, he was worried about the frequent crossing of roads that often put normal low strollers at risk. Francesco tried the Stokke Xplory Stroller and was pleased at the hight that positions the baby higher than a car bumper and also a little farther away from the pollution of car exhausts (he is a little paranoic about air pollution, but we are too and appreciate his idea). PS. I know that it has nothing to do with office chairs! But the children are in an ergonomic position (never as much as having them walk though), and so I published the review anyway!

The concept of ergonomics

Starting with the definition of ergonomics it is the science that deals with the interactions between the elements of a system and the function for which they are designed for the purpose of improving user well-being and overall system performance. (def. I.E.A. from wikipedia)

Exercises for reducing eye strain

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Exercises for reducing eye strain

Eye strain can be caused by focusing for long periods on objects within arm’s reach, for example when working at a computer screen. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry and irritated eyes, headaches and fatigue. However, a few simple exercises can reduce this problem, whether you are wearing glasses, contact lenses or have perfect vision.

A simple technique is to take micro-pauses. Every 20 minutes look away and focus on an object 5 meters away for about 20 seconds. This allows the eyes to relax.

Taking long blinks will also help to relax the eye. Sometimes you may need to rest the eyes for 2 – 3 minutes every half hour. Close your eyes or cover them with a soft fabric to prevent light from entering.

One technique is called “palming”. Rub your hands together until they are warm, then cup them and place them over the eyes, so you do not touch them. Sit like this for 2 – 3 minutes.

Besides these techniques for relaxing the eye, there are also exercises that help you focus at different distances. A simple exercise is to move the eyes in small circles. Circle a finger in front of your face, then close your eyes and continue the exercise without moving any muscles in the face.

One exercise is called near-far focusing. Hold a finger 15-20 centimeters from the face. Focus on the finger for 2-3 seconds, and then look on an object 3 meters away. Repeat back and forth 10-15 times.

Scanning is a technique where you move an object, for example a pencil, back and forth in front of your face and follow it with your eyes. You can also scan around the edges of objects in a room in a fluid manner for 2 minutes.

If your eye strain does not go away, you should go to your optician and examine your eyes. Glasses or contact lenses with the wrong power can strain your eye muscles. If your problem relate to dry eyes, you may want to try contact lenses with moisturizing agents.


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Back to work programs fall short due to many factors.

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Back to Work

According to a recent survey, two-thirds of respondents do not have any formal, non-occupational return-to-work program, but some companies are find they can reduce costs and employee turnover by linking RTW programs with short-term disability.

By Carol Patton

Last year, Jason Denis’ employer placed him at the corporate office of a telecommunications company. As a disability absence manager at Excel Managed Care & Disability Services Inc. in Sacramento, Calif., his job was to develop and manage a new return-to-work program for employees on short-term disability at the company’s headquarters.

This approach was something new. Traditionally, companies focused on helping employees who were injured at work get back to work early.

But nothing like this had ever been done for employees with non-occupational injuries.

Some employers are now developing RTW programs for all of their disabled workers, not just those who were injured between 9 and 5. By making various accommodations to employees’ schedules or work areas, or temporarily changing their job tasks, employers are realizing numerous benefits.

Employee absences decrease. Company savings increase, sometimes climbing into the six-figure range, not to mention employee satisfaction. Disabled employees are grateful for the opportunity to be productive and earn a full paycheck.

Denis says leaders at the telecommunications company were key to driving the design and rollout of the new program, which included educating HR and line supervisors on how to integrate it into the company’s daily operations. The company’s HR department mainly tracks absence and leave metrics, and exchanges data with its disability carrier to identify opportunities to expand or enhance the program for its 3,500 employees.

The program Denis was sent to introduce, called Workplace Possibilities, was developed two years ago by The Standard, a national provider of group-disability-and-assets management. The Standard partners with Excel to place trained staff on-site as Workplace Possibilities consultants.

“The beauty of having an on-site consultant is that HR spends a very limited amount of time [and] resources on the day-to-day management of the program,” Denis says. “HR wasn’t aware of the dissatisfaction of employees. They had employees who were in need, reaching out to them … I [heard] a lot of horror stories . . . .”

Early into the program, although ergonomic evaluations were conducted on employees, none of the recommendations were implemented. Some workers were in physical pain, he says, adding that this breakdown in communications reflected poorly on HR.

“There was a lack of follow-through with the coordination of the [equipment] purchase, delivery and installation,” he says, adding that he has since conducted more than 100 ergonomic evaluations.

“By default,” he adds, “someone from facilities [management] ended up being the person trying to evaluate the needs of the people. [This person] wasn’t trained and didn’t have the skill set to make proper recommendations.”

Since then, many things have changed. HR developed specific company goals, ensuring that the new program matches the organization’s strategy and values as well as employee needs.

It posted communications on the company’s intranet, informing managers and supervisors of the program, directing them toward the program’s website page for further information. Employees were also offered self-help tools and ergonomic tips, such as how to properly adjust their desk chairs.

Without implementing a formal program, says Denis, too many things can go wrong.

Ultimately, he adds, HR must be a key player in its evolution.

Effective Strategies

According to the Mercer Absence and Disability Management Survey, which polled 470 employers in 2010, two-thirds of respondents do not have any formal, non-occupational RTW program.

Michael Klachefsky, national practice leader for Workplace Possibilities at The Standard in Portland, Ore., believes some employers are not aware of the benefits — including cost savings — of such a program or don’t realize the difference between direct costs (such as the amount employees are paid to stay home while recuperating) and indirect costs (such as how much overtime is spent as a result of workplace absence).

To make matters worse, the longer employees stay out of work, the greater the chance they won’t return, he says, citing the results of multiple studies.

Regardless of diagnosis, he says, the chances employees will return to their jobs after three months is an estimated 75 percent; after one year, it’s roughly 50 percent and, after two years, it’s practically zero.

Still, creating a RTW program for employees on STD takes effort and resources. For example, Klachefsky says, someone must be designated as the program’s manager.

Other suggestions:

* Bring employees back to work as fast as possible. “If the employee and supervisor can agree to modified duties, then talk to the doctor about a plan,” he says.

* Train supervisors on how to develop transitional work assignments or modified duties.

* Communicate the program’s goals, impact and how it works to the entire workforce. Avoid poorly-worded statements such as, “We’re going to investigate your injury … .” He says those words prompted a local union to publish this response in its newsletter: “It’s now a crime to be sick.”

* Involve unions early in the program’s design. “If they see this program as a benefit takeaway, they will resist,” he says.

* Collect, track and analyze data. Develop a baseline of information, such as how many days of STD employees took before and after the program started, so you can justify the program’s expense to senior management.

* Develop policies about the maximum duration employees can be assigned light duty. “You don’t want light duties to turn into a permanent job,” Klachefsky says.

He says Mercer surveys have found that, although the cost of healthcare for employers ranges between 13 percent to 15 percent of payroll, 9 percent of payroll is being spent on absences that can be mitigated and reduced.

“For employers who are willing to invest in RTW for STD, the return-on-investment is, for every $1 they spend, they will save $2 to $10,” he says. “The ROI for direct costs is [between] 1 percent and 2 percent. The ROI for direct and indirect costs could be as high as 9.4 percent.”

Forced Choice

In most cases, employers no longer have the option of separating RTW programs from STD. Once they’re made aware of an employee’s disability — whether the injury occurred on or off work — they are now legally obligated to assess the employee’s ability and make possible reasonable accommodations to return the individual to work, says Julie Norville, senior vice president and national absence-management-practice leader at Aon Hewitt in Atlanta.

This past spring, she says, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released administrative guidelines that clarified what employers must do under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. Before these clarifications were issued, the guidelines were very confusing and, as a result, were not observed, Norville and others say.

The current guidelines now broaden the ADA’s original definition of a disability to include an impairment that “substantially limits” one or more major life activity.

“Under the law, once you’re made aware of a disability, regardless of benefit type like workers’ comp or STD, you still have to address possible reasonable accommodations for that employee,” Norville says, adding that employers who are unaware of these guidelines could wind up in court.

To be ADAAA-compliant, many decisions need to be made. How can HR reasonably accommodate employees? How can HR determine if the accommodation is reasonable or not? How long should the RTW program be?

“The good news is, if you only have a workers’ compensation program, you have some place to start from,” she says. “You’re simply crossing the aisle into non-occupational disability, making sure you’re accommodating everybody and looking at everybody through the same lens.”

Joint Effort

Over the past decade, the University of California at San Francisco has been fairly assertive helping employees on STD return to work, especially because the length of their disability tends to be shorter when working, says Larry Hickey, manager of employment and benefits at UCSF, which supports about 18,000 employees.

Hickey suspects some of the reasons may be that employees experience less financial stress because they’re earning a full paycheck or feel less isolated because they’re socializing with their peers or friends in the workplace, he says. Either way, everyone wins.

Last year, he says, 284 employees filed STD claims. Among the program’s key steps is a meeting between employees, their supervisors and a disability-manager analyst to address accommodations, which range from modified work schedules and voice-activated computer systems to sit-stand workstations. While there’s no hard data, Hickey suspects the program has saved the school at least six figures.

Perhaps even more important, the majority of employees on STD want to return to work. He says accommodations, which usually cost less than $500, are only limited by the imagination of people involved in the program.

“[Employees] become very anxious when their ability to do their job is impacted and supervisors become very fearful — ‘How am I gonna get this work done?’ ” he says. “So having this [program] is very helpful and helps you be compliant with a relatively complicated rule.”

Last fall, Tiburon Associates in Alexandria, Va., merged its RTW and STD programs for its 500 employees. Between 3 percent and 5 percent of its workforce are on STD, says Rebecca Storts, HR manager at Tiburon, which places its employees with government contractors.

“It’s not easy to go out and just find another employee,” she says, adding that the company’s STD carrier is Aflac.

“We provide a skilled workforce,” she says, “and are maintaining much more of that skill set when we actually get that employee back to work.”

She says HR designed simple forms for physicians to clearly state the employee’s capabilities, then asked supervisors to brainstorm potential positions for employees on STD.

Because many employees are assigned to work in production-based environments, she says, those on STD can still perform important tasks such as sitting on a stool with a stopwatch to evaluate areas for improvement.

An Aflac representative also conducts employee seminars that explain how the program works and what they need to do.

However, once on STD, employees don’t always communicate their health status, so HR has assigned one staff member who stays in touch.

She periodically contacts them, asks about their prognosis and restrictions, when their next doctor’s appointment is and how long they will be off work, and requests they provide HR with a doctor’s note identifying their disability.

When a position becomes available, she sends an interim offer letter, describing their new job responsibilities and employer expectations.

Employees sign off, also acknowledging awareness of their restrictions and an assurance that they won’t exceed their physical ability.

A form letter with a checklist of activities is also sent to their doctor, asking the physician to check off everything they can and can’t do.

When employees return to work, the company’s safety director meets with their supervisors to review their restrictions and options if they still can’t perform the job’s tasks. In such cases, employees are requested to return to their physicians for a new list of restrictions.

Although the company is still gathering program data, Storts believes it has saved in the five-figure range since the program was implemented last year.

“You have to show employees that you’re invested in them and that this is how, in return, they invest in you,” she says. “It’s really been a great learning opportunity when we merged these programs together.”