From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ergonomics Roundup: Teens and MSDs; Brewery Ergonomics; IEHF Conference and Web; Musical Instruments; iPad vs. Kindle

A summary of ergonomics in the news, including teens and MSD awareness, brewery ergonomics, Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors, musical instrument ergonomics, and iPad ergonomics, usability, and how it’s being  compared with the Kindle as an ebook reader.


Article title: Take steps to help avoid repetitive stress injuries

I came across this article and recognized Dr. Nancy Black, who is quoted in the article, as a contributor to the Ergoweb Forums (she’s also president of the Atlantic Chapter of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists and associate professor at l’Université de Moncton). The author, "(nearly) 16-year-old" Aurélie Paré, writes of her own brush with an MSD at

While repetitive stress injuries (also referred to as musculoskeletal injuries) can be caused by playing a sport or a musical instrument, they can also be caused by doing something seemingly harmless — for example, spending large amounts of time on the computer, whether it be chatting on Facebook or working on a school project.

Like many people, I use the computer often and spend large quantities of time typing. Technology is well-integrated to my life; I use it to study, communicate (i.e. e-mailing and blogging), and write this column. Since I depend on technology so much, it was devastating when I recently had to cease typing for a few days after being diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury.

I found it interesting to see a first hand report of ergonomics-related problems by a teenager, who like many her age is deeply immersed in the electronic technologies of the day.

Now, I realize that repetitive stress injuries may not … seem to be the most fascinating health problem that teens face. Nor are they the most prevalent. However, since repetitive stress injuries are relatively easy to prevent and since they can be quite painful and annoying (I speak from experience!), learning how to prevent them can be worthwhile.

That’s why I turned to Nancy Black …

This is where the article really peaked my interest, because she delves into the concept of comfort. It may seem counterintuitive, but comfort may not be the best measure:

It was previously believed that furniture should be as comfortable as possible to prevent injury. This belief lost its credibility when studies found that being in a comfortable position for long periods of time could lead to less activity in the muscles and measurable compression in the spine (these are considered negative effects) …

Dr. Black says that some equipment can actually be too comfortable …

Read the full article …


Article Title: Saxophone’s heavy metal neck pain eased by harness

"(Nearly) 16-year-old" Aurélie Paré, featured above, correctly noted that musicians may be at risk for an MSD, which provides me with a segue to this article that features yet another recognized contributor to the field of ergonomics, Judith Hills, a lecturer in design at the University of Glamorgan.

Jim Barrett says the expert advice of Judith Hills has eased the back pain he suffers from playing a bass saxophone.

"At the worst point I was experiencing considerable back problems, having to use two pillows to be able to sleep, in extreme discomfort both standing and sitting – especially in long and boring meetings – and with very restricted ability to play when marching, totally destroying myself on longer marches," he said.

After studying the musician’s posture, Ms Hills developed a prototype harness which moved some of the weight to his waist, kept his hips and shoulders level and his head upright.

Read the full article …

Hills will be presenting this project at the IEHF Annual Conference 2010, going on this week at Keele University (see for conference details).


Article Title: Advancing ergonomics at New Belgium Brewery

Some ergonomists get all the fun projects. Judith Hills, featured above, gets to work with musicians. Angela Dartt, a doctor of philosophy candidate at Colorado State University, gets to work in a brewery.

During the fall of 2009, Dartt spent two and a half months observing and collecting data on 17 New Belgium employees who work on the kegging and bottling lines.

Weighing approximately 162 pounds, lifting, stacking and moving kegs pose a risk of injury to the entire back, neck and arms of brewery employees. Often in both kegging and bottling employees perform one movement for long periods of time, which can result in musculoskeletal disorders over time.  To this end, companies are developing overall ergonomic strategies as integral parts of their business strategies.

One such company is New Belgium Brewery, in Fort Collins, Colo.  As a leader in occupational safety, the brewery seeks to be on the cutting edge of safety advances.  To do so, the brewery is collaborating with professors and students within the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center’s (MAP ERC) Ergonomics and Occupational Health Psychology Training Programs at Colorado State University (CSU). 

Read the full article …


The Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors’ new website has now been launched

Thanks to Steve Shorrock for letting us know that the Institute for Ergonomics & Human Factors (IEHF), formerly known as the Ergonomics Society, has launched a new web site.

According to Shorrock, the new site has many features, including:

  • Find an expert – get expert help from registered consultancies, contact other members
  • Library – read articles, keep up to date with the E/HF in the news
  • Community – find other members in your location, use the forums, cross the research-practice ‘bridge’
  • Events calender – get up to date with details of upcoming conferences and workshops
  • Careers and training – check out the latest jobs, keep up to date with CPD, find out about courses, work experience and ‘what’s it like’
  • Membership – join us!
  • About the Institute – find out who’s who and what’s what

Shorrock also says "HUGE thanks should go out to Tina Worthy who has worked tirelessly to create a great website at".


iPad vs. Kindle; Apple vs. Amazon; Ergonomics and Usability

I’ve covered this topic a few times in anticipation of the iPad release, not necessarily because I sway one way or the other when it comes to Apple products, but because Apple has a history of being a "game changer" when it comes to electronic device interfaces, and if anyone should stay up to speed — if not be the leaders — on these interfaces, it’s ergonomists.

The release of Apple’s new iPad device has created a lot of buzz, but what are the early adopters saying about its ergonomics and usability? (Actually, I consider ergonomics, human factors and usability as one and the same, but many consumers, and even some professionals and practitioners, make distinctions between the different terms). Here are an assortment of links to an article and some bloggers sharing various opinions:

Dwight Silverman, writing in the Houston Chronicle, Kindle vs. iPad: Which is better for reading a book?, compares the readability, ergonomics, convenience and cost of the two devices:

Like a lot of readers, I love the physical nature of books — the feel, the design, even the smell. But the more I used the Kindle, the more I liked it.

And then … along came the iPad.

I don’t have Kindle owner’s remorse, but I understand the angst of those who do. With its grayscale display and does-one-thing-well approach, Amazon’s e-reader is neither as stylishly alluring nor as powerful as Apple’s product.

But how do the two compare strictly as e-book readers? When you simply want to sit down and enjoy a good book, which has the best experience?

Silverman’s conclusion:

Overall, I’m giving the edge to the Kindle, one big reason being that you can read its books on many other devices, including, ironically, the iPad. If you’re a book lover who can only afford one of these devices, and if you don’t need a full-fledged tablet computer, then the Kindle’s your best choice.

Read the full article …

According to Trevor Dennis, in A Day With The iPad – Usability and Software

As I mentioned in my hardware review, the iPad is the computer we always wanted. I still stand behind that notion whole heartedly. The iPad could very well replace many people’s laptops. It has the capability to do nearly everything a laptop can do, although more advanced applications will keep many content creators on a laptop. For someone like me, I can already tell that the iPad will replace my laptop 90 percent of the time. Still, when I need to do some serious video editing, photoshop work, major research for law school, or gaming, I will need to use my iMac or MacBook Pro.

See the full blog, including a video …

"christhebrain", in his blog entry titled Why Apple is Kicking Everyone’s &#% – The Real Cost of Software Development is Usability

What does Apple get that Sony, HP, Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, and LG don’t?…. Usability in software. All these other geeks out there making hardware love packing on “specs”, stuffing big numbers like RAM, gigahertz, and hard drive space into small or cool looking gadgets. It all looks good on paper, but after you use one of their gadgets for more than a few weeks, you just want to throw it out a window. Thousands of new gadgets released every year all using the same-old crappy unfriendly, unintuitive, unattractive software. It’s no wonder so many are flocking to Apple when we can just pickup one of their simplistic products, start taping and swiping our fingers, and lo and behold… it just does what we want it to do. Of course, it isn’t easy, or cheap, to make software this user friendly, which is why everyone is having such a hard time keeping up.

Read the full blog …