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Ergonomics at Home

Why is it Important? 

The opportunity we have in our home that we do not always have in our work area is the ability to create a user-friendly environment. As each room in the house serves a specific function we need to come up with ideas on how we can set up the room to best suit our needs so there is more efficiency and less stress in the activities of the house.  

Entering the House

For example, as we step through the front door of most houses we find an entrance way or foyer. Ideally, the foyer should form a small room that serves as a privacy barrier to the rest of the house. The foyer should contain closets for the purpose of storing coats, shoes and umbrellas. It is important to store things in such a way as to make them readily accessible. Umbrellas should be hung on hooks or put in bins. Shoes should be put on shelves or racks. By having people change shoes as they come into the house indoor cleaning is cut to a minimum. There should be a foot mat both at the front door and inside the door.  

The Living Room 

The next room we enter is the living room. This is the room in which we usually do most of our relaxing in the form of reading, socializing or watching TV. These activities require ergonomically designed couches, recliners and chairs. Couches are notorious for bad design in that they usually fail to properly support the spine especially in the lumbar area. Watching television is best done from an easy chair or recliner. Directional light should be used while reading that will only illuminate a specific target area.  

The Kitchen

The kitchen is where we store, cook and prepare food. It is most practical to use a refrigerator that has a freezer on the bottom with the most commonly used foods on the top or shelf that has the easiest access. Most people have refrigerators that are set up in such a way that they are forced to bend over at the waist to access the much frequently used foods.

The most important thing to remember about the kitchen is to create workstations in which walking back and forth is cut to a minimum. This makes for speed and efficiency. The most commonly used utensils should be within easy reach. Novel ways of storing things like hanging pots and pans on walls or ceiling beams which are then accessible from step stools are more desirable than storing them out of the way at the back of cabinets. 

Special kitchen tool designs make chores easier as in opening jars. Professional cooks like professional wood workers know the importance of using only sharp knives. When used skillfully, it is more dangerous to use a dull knife than a sharp one. Using a utensil that is not suited for the task (improvising) is a sure invitation to an accident.  

The Bathroom 

We must pay special attention to the bathroom. This is where most accidents in the house occur, usually from slipping. Bath and floor mats that provide good traction are essential for the purpose of preventing slips and falls. Hand bars are also crucial to prevent falls. Common flaws in bathroom design are low bathroom sinks and showerheads. These will tend precipitate low back and neck injuries respectively. All faucets in the house should be fitted with a user-friendly variety in which low force is necessary to turn the water on and off. Turning knobs that are poorly designed can put unnatural stress on the wrists thereby causing injury to wrist tendons. 

The Bedroom

There are several factors to consider in the bedroom relating to our beds as significant causes of neck and low back pain. The traditional pillow is rendered obsolete considering how it changes the natural curve of the neck into an unnatural position. A cervical pillow is much more suitable in that it supports the natural curve of the neck.  

A condition called torticollis commonly called “wry neck” is frequently the result of reading or watching television in bed. The effect is sharp pain in the neck muscles with a marked loss in mobility of the neck. It is frequently caused by holding the neck in an unnatural position for long periods of time. There are bed wedges and bed loungers specifically designed to support a normal posture of the neck while reading and watching television.  

We spend about one third of our life in bed and in many cases low back pain is caused by sleeping on a surface that is not supportive of the natural configuration of the spine. This situation leads to tossing and turning throughout the night in an attempt to find a comfortable position. The result is poor quality sleep and the subsequent interference of productivity during waking hours.  

The solution is to invest in a mattress that supports the spine without creating pressure points. The advantage of a quality airbed is that the amount of pressure can be individualized for each person.   

Again, directive lighting is essential for the bedroom so one person is able to engage in activities like reading without disturbing a partner. Specifically for reading are the "book stand lights" which attach directly onto the books.   

The Garden 

Finally, there is the back yard and garden. Working in the back yard is akin to the “weekend athlete syndrome”. For many people who are middle age or older, this activity may be their only form of physical exercise. For this reason it is suggested that this work be balanced with exercise and stretching over the course of the week. It is especially helpful to stretch the hamstring muscles at the back of the thighs. These muscles when tight and inflexible make the low back particularly vulnerable to low-back injury.  

Using the right tools for the right job is important especially ones that enable one to avoid bending over for prolonged periods of time. The low back is particularly vulnerable to strain when sitting at a stool or on the ground and leaning over while working at ground level. In these situations it is helpful to work from a kneeling position with the knees well cushioned on knee pads. Taking frequent breaks and avoiding static postures will lessen strain on the body.  

To keep back yard tools organized and in one centralized location portable storage cabinets with adjustable shelving are helpful. Hoses can be organized on a hose reel for easy control in which the hose is unwound only when being used. Coiled hoses are also easier to manage and take up less space than regular uncoiled hoses. When not in use outdoor patio furniture can be protected from the elements with specially designed and fitted furniture covers.

1) Inkeles, Gordon and Iris Schencke. Ergonomic Living: How to Create a User-Friendly Home and Office. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1994