Woman standing ergonomically at proper workstation height

Is it Truly Ergonomic? Buyer Beware

In simple terms, ergonomics means fitting the work to the worker. A quick walk through any retail store or a brief flip through a flyer or an online search will reveal a plethora of ‘ergonomic’ products; but what really makes them ergonomic?

In today’s market, companies fabricate and attach a cushion to their product or curve the handle of a tool and the product is now called ‘ergonomic’. But is it truly? Unfortunately, there are no specific guidelines or standards that must be met in order to claim something as ergonomic, it is possible it gets this label for marketing purposes only! And this means that there is no guarantee that this particular product will reduce the likelihood of injury or alleviate the user’s discomfort. So, we need to become more educated consumers, by asking ourselves the following questions:

1. How is this product different from others on the market?

If the product claims to be ergonomic, there should be distinct differences from it and the ‘standard’ version of it. For example, a curved or wave-shaped keyboard is often advertised as ‘ergonomic’. The shape is the obvious difference from a standard keyboard. A curved-handled shovel may also have claims of being ‘ergonomic’ to reduce back pain. The handle shape definitely changes how you might hold a shovel. But let’s continue to question 2.

2. How will this product change the way the user will interact with their equipment?

If a product claims to be ergonomic, there should be distinct differences in the way the user interacts with it, compared to that of the ‘standard’ version. Should the ergonomic product require the same awkward movements or forceful exertion as its predecessor, then perhaps some further investigation is needed.

A wave-shaped keyboard changes the angle of your wrists when typing. A curved handle on a snow shovel changes how you hold the shovel and move snow. A trackball mouse limits shoulder movement when using the mouse (but adds demand to the fingers to manipulate the ball). An ergonomic pen requires a different style of grip.

It is also important to consider what you are trying to address! Continue to question 3.

PenAgain Ergosof Pen product

3. What discomfort or symptoms might this product alleviate?

If the product claims to be ergonomic, there is often an inherent expectation that it will aid in reducing injury. However, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

The keyboard labelled ‘ergonomic’ may not actually work for everyone. The wave style may work to improve wrist postures for a user with broad shoulders and large hands; but may actually cause worse wrist postures for a petite user. Or, may create a further reach to the mouse due to the wider nature of the keyboard. The curved handle snow shovel may work to improve postures when lifting snow, but what about when you just need to push the snow? A trackball mouse may help to reduce shoulder movements, but if the user’s hand/fingers have to stretch to manipulate the ball, it may create new discomfort.

Just because a product is marketed as ‘ergonomic’ does not necessarily mean we all need to have it. Or that it will work in all scenarios. Think through these steps outlined above to make sure that the product will actually address a concern to help ‘fit the work to the worker’. Understand what may be needed for a specific person or a specific task and then choose the product that best fits those needs. And be sure that all users understand how to properly use the product/equipment; it can take time to get used to, but incorrect use can cause frustrations, and can still result in strain and injury. Being an educated consumer is the way to navigate the choices available to us!

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