With the integration of computers in Schools, ergonomic issues form an area of common interest between furniture designers, teachers, education planners and students. My role as an Occupational Therapist is to contribute to the development and application of ergonomic principles for application to students working with computers in learning environments.
A crucial factor in achieving suitable ergonomics in the classroom is for ergonomic principles to be understood and applied by the designers of school computer furniture.
However, even with ergonomic furniture suitable for children available in the market place, there is no guarantee of it being selected and used appropriately. "Ergonomically" correct furniture is no guarantee of good posture anyway. Suitable furniture must be combined with the teaching of correct work habits that will form the basis of a lifelong association with computers.
All those involved in the use of computers in schools must understand and
agree to some extent on the assumptions made on the selection
of computer furniture and the layout of computers in the classrooms.
Those involved include the facilities planner who must
be concerned with the age and size of students and the corresponding
desk heights, the technology coordinator with the physical
use of the equipment, its safety, and its ease of maintenance
and repair, the Teacher who needs to be concerned with
his or her teaching methods and the ability of all students
to use the equipment effectively for the learning task.
Community residents will of course be monitoring the
safety aspects of the equipment and impact of its use on the
eyes, hearing and overall health of their children.
This article appeared in The West Australian page 3, February 8th 1999. It is one of a number of articles that appear from time to time expressing the growing concern for the health of children growing up with computers.
The concern is that the conditions that can impede muscle, bone and nervous system development can be "cumulative" in nature. In other words, the damage done to the soft tissues of the body today will be added to the damage done tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and so on.
Children have the potential to be spending hours in front of the screen and keyboard, especially if computer games are a regular part of the after-school routine.
Contributing or initiating the damage and adopting poor postures (necessitated by the poor fit between the kids and their equipment at school) early in life cannot be a good thing.
School children in the classroom have, to a large extent, been excluded from ergonomic applications designed to prevent musculoskeletal problems. Compared to the enormous amount of research on the work place, problems faced by children at school have largely been ignored. The introduction of computers has added a new dimension, which probably means more physically constraining work than in the past for pupils.
There is the need to better understand the origins of adult pain problems, and with the generally poor results in the treatment of adult back and neck problems and the fact that conditions like RSI are far easier to prevent than to cure, there are strong grounds for early initiatives to prevent the onset and development of persistent pain problems in adults.
Around the world, there is growing support for regulations that govern a safe work environment be extended to cover children as they do for any other workers. This was done in Sweden in 1991 where the laws governing the work environment were amended to include school children from grade one.
Unlike an adult worker who has a certain knowledge of safe work practice and a developed awareness and understanding of pain signals, a child in an ergonomically unsound school computer environment may be unaware of accumulating injury.
Since some disorders are initiated and develop gradually, the risks of negligence claims against schools in pehaps 10 to 15 years cannot be dismissed even though the computer related injury may have been exacerbated by other computer use at home.
The good news is that the computer is still only a minor part of the school routine. Other classes, crafts, and activities make up the majority of the day. There are many issues that contribute to improved learning and increased student satisfaction in classrooms where computers play an important role. Over the next few months we intend to publish a number of articles on the current research in this area and also general information that relates to computer use in schools.
Some articles are on line below along with a page of links to ergonomic resources that are on the internet.
Be sure to bookmark this page because it will be regularly updated.
Articles related to School Ergonomics
A paper entitled:"The effects of ergonomically designed school furniture on pupils' attitudes, symptoms and behaviour" S. Linton. A. Hellsing, T. Halme and K. Akerstedt. Applied Ergonomics 1994 25(5) 299-304. (Available UWA FIZ library or Email Us to request a copy)
ISO standards for Classroom Furniture A discussion of the origin of recomendations made for the heights of classroom furniture. Contains many valuable references.
A checklist for Students at the computer Click here to go to System Shawtec's checklist that covers some of the risk factors to look for with students at the computer.
ERGONOMIC LINKS Click here to go to a selection of Ergonomic resources on the internet.
Carole Shaw can be contacted by Email: CaroleOT@shawtec.com.au