A new study follows up on and expands on research reported in 2000 that found supplementary rest breaks for data-entry operators minimize discomfort and eyestrain without impairing productivity. Both studies were conducted by scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and associates.
The most recent study, reported by NIOSH in the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, followed 51 workers for eight weeks. For half of the study, participants had conventional work breaks – two of 15 minutes each per day. For the other half of the study, they had the conventional breaks plus four 5-minute breaks per day. The researchers gauged discomfort and eyestrain through responses to questionnaires, and productivity through electronically recorded measures.
The participants rated their discomfort and eyestrain significantly lower with the supplemental breaks. And their data-entry speed was found to be significantly faster with the extra breaks. The findings showed their work output was maintained even though they spent 20 extra minutes resting during the work day.
The researchers investigated whether stretching exercises helped to reduce discomfort, and found no significant differences between employees instructed to perform stretching exercises and employees not instructed to perform them for the study. As employees in the exercise group skipped them during most of their breaks, the researchers believe the subject needs further investigation.
Commenting on the study, NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D., said some observers see value in the extra breaks as a way to the alleviate risk of repetitive stress injuries and others question the impact of the additional breaks on productivity. There is a dearth of scientific data to help employers and employees weigh these questions, he added, and the new study helps provide some answers.
NIOSH said it will incorporate the findings among other data in designing ongoing research for preventing work-related musculoskeletal injuries, and assessing potential interventions