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Updated 3:00 PM May 2, 2006




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Arm pain? Back ache? Maybe it's how you are sitting

For weeks, Karen Shill, coordinator for volunteer services with Community Health Services at the U-M Health System, had a pain in her right arm and shoulder. Being left-handed it took a while for her to realize that the culprit was her computer mouse, which she used her right hand to maneuver.
Simple solutions, such as placing three-ring binders behind her keyboard and underneath her feet, have made Karen Shill more comfortable at her workstation in the Women's Hospital. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Shill is one of many faculty and staff members who have benefited from an ergonomics consultation through the U-M Hospitals and Health Centers Safety Management Services. Her story of how small changes in the work environment have made a huge difference in her comfort and productivity is an example of an ideal outcome of the Enhanced Ergonomics Awareness Program currently underway. The program, launched in March, seeks to educate the campus about how small changes in behavior or equipment use can make work places safer and more comfortable.

"Once the ergonomics consultant came in, she started moving my computer, monitor and telephone. She changed distances of certain objects in my work area," Shill says. "Then, she moved me up and down on my chair to find the right height." In an effort to help Shill's posture and to prevent future problems with her arm while typing, Occupational Therapist Bridget Schlaff placed three-ring binders on the floor under her feet and binders behind her keyboard to support reading material or papers Shill would look at while typing.

Heeding the advice of her consultant, Shill is a lot more conscious of how she sits.

"She asked a number of questions, gave valuable explanations and made a number of changes. I have been fine now," Shill says. Among the tidbits of advice Shill has learned: "When you are sitting and working, don't twist your body. Keep your body parallel—face people directly. Keep your back at a right angle, with your armrest at the right height."

Lauding the efforts of her consultant, Shill watched as she crawled energetically underneath her desk to organize computer wires so equipment would be in positions that would be most advantageous ergonomically.

"That pain in my right arm had kept me from sleeping—and now I feel like a new person," Shill says. "I was very excited at how she handled my situation and now I can get on with my work and life and be comfortable. I really appreciated her personality, style and expertise. It was really an enjoyable educational experience."

Her consultation, which began with a few small changes, resulted in tremendous effects, which, according to Shill, help her to work more effectively and be more comfortable.

"It's a blessing to have this available to us. The University wants the most out of its employees," Shill says. "It is very useful to get advice on this sort of thing. I'd encourage others to take advantage of this opportunity."

The Enhanced Ergonomics Awareness Program is part of the Michigan Healthy Community Initiative—a University-wide effort to encourage healthier living through increased activity, attention to physical safety in the workplace, and a number of other means.

The program encourages employees to use self-help tips found at

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