Work spaces too uncomfortable

By By Ross Solomon

By Ross Solomon

Twenty-page papers, class-long PowerPoint presentations, final programming projects and more8212;nearly every U student has some sort of final assignment that will put him or her at a desk or in front of a computer for hours on end.

While some students might be able to do this work at home, many must rely on U resources. What could possibly be wrong with free computers and desks for everyone to use, right? Although these setups might seem fine and dandy for many students, a closer look will show that most of these workstations are an ergonomic nightmare, sometimes entirely unusable, and a potential health hazard for anyone who uses them.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration defines carpal tunnel syndrome as, “The compression and entrapment of the median nerve where it passes through the wrist into the hand.” This can result in loss of feeling, mobility, strength and even the use of the affected hand.

According to, the main causes for CTS are repetition, direct pressure, prolonged constrained joint position and awkward posture. In addition to CTS, prolonged exposure to these actions can lead to other serious maladies, including tendonitis, pronator syndrome, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, ulnar nerve entrapment and more.

Although this might seem daunting to some, there are few preventative measures one can take to avoid these problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the simplest of these steps include making sure your elbows make a 90 degree angle when writing or typing, sitting upright, adjusting the monitor so it is level with your eyes and using a trackball instead of a mouse. Adjusting your sitting position or taking a break every 30 minutes is also shown to reduce the onset of the injuries mentioned above, as is using a cushioned chair to reduce the pressure on your back.

Which brings me back to the computers, chairs and desks provided by the university. If you’ve ever had a class in either OSH or a physics auditorium, you’ve experience their archaic chair and desk setups8212;jammed in a hard plastic chair that puts pressure on your back with tiny, cramped tables that require you to hunch forward and do not allow the elbow to form a proper 90 degree angle.

These are not the only classrooms at the U that have this problem. In terms of computer work stations, try taking a trip to the Union Computer Lab Downstairs8212;monitors are below eye level for most users, keyboards are significantly higher than they should be and plastic chairs hard and unadjustable.

Some students, myself included, cannot even use these computers without dealing with severe pain in the arms, shoulder and back. Again, this is just a small example of a problem that plagues almost every campus work station.

Donald S. Bloswick, a Mechanical Engineering professor who specializes in ergonomics, safety, occupational biomechanics and rehabilitation engineering said that a big reason why older desks found in most classrooms do not need to be replaced is because many students only spend about 50 minutes sitting in each of these chairs.

About adjustable computer workstations he said that an education program for students would be the most important course of action at this point. “It would be less costly than spending a lot of money on equipment that people might not know how to use,” Bloswick said.

Some progress is being made in terms of chairs and desks. For example, the newly redesigned Warnock Engineering Building provides padded chairs and ample desk space.

Unfortunately, much more needs to be done to ensure the ongoing good health of the students. The cramped chairs from past decades must be replaced with similar environments to those found in the Warnock Engineering Building. Every computer on campus should be paired with an ergonomic keyboard, a lowered area for the keyboard and adjustable monitors and chairs. To provide any less is a disservice to every student on campus, and an insult to those who have already been injured.

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Ross Solomon