February 28th, 2003

NJ Considers Schoolhouse Ergonomics Bill

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New Jersey’s state assembly is currently reviewing a bill to create an ergonomics in education study commission to evaluate the need for ergonomics improvements in the state’s schools.

If the bill, Assembly Bill 545, is approved, a study commission will spend six months looking at ergonomics in New Jersey schools, and then give its recommendations to the state. The bill passed the state senate last October; according to New Jersey resident Anne Hainsworth, whose own problems with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) helped spur the drafting of the bill, if the bill passes the state assembly, it has a good chance of being signed by the governor.

The goal of the bill, said Hainsworth, is to see whether and where overall ergonomics improvements can be made in the state’s school districts. The study commission will look at ergonomics in state education — everything from desks, workstations, physical education classes, books, and teaching students about ergonomics — and make recommendations accordingly.

“The purpose is to prevent children from having lifelong pain and suffering due to computer misuse and overuse, and to ensure that they can be productive adults,” said Hainsworth. In her own school district, students use computers in their computer labs, libraries and classrooms, as well as at home; Hainsworth’s local schools have even considered getting laptops for the high school students. “There were 4.5 children to one computer in 2001. I’m sure that [ratio] has closed in even tighter than that now.”

Hainsworth took the idea of ergonomics in the classroom to her state assemblyman, Majority Leader Joe Roberts, who recruited his staff members to do some research to see what other states were doing. Shortly thereafter, Assembly Bill 545 was drafted. Supporters of the bill, the first of its type to put people into classrooms and schools to seek out ergonomics improvements, include the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey School Board Association and the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers.

Hainsworth’s own motivation was simple. “I was concerned about children; [I started] thinking down the road and about kids,” she said. Ultimately, Hainsworth would like to get parents involved, too.

As for the bill’s future, Hainsworth is confident. “I’m fairly sure the governor will sign it. We’re not even asking for any money,” said Hainsworth.

While New Jersey is the first state in the U.S. to address overall ergonomics concerns in education, other states have tackled more specific issues. Late last year, California passed a law for standards on textbook weights for school kids. Currently, the Georgia legislature is considering a similar bill.



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