Preserve Your Body, Preserve Your Business
There's nothing self-indulgent about adopting ergonomic practices
Gitte Pedersen knew something was wrong when her back hurt so badly
she couldn't get out of bed one morning. She had spent the previous week
pulling all-nighters on a project for her two-year-old, international,
high-tech consulting firm Proximity, which is based in New York City. During
the two years she has worked on her own, Pedersen had made a bad habit
of working 16-hour stretches in her home office, glued to her laptop and
the telephone, which she used without a headset.
"I ended up having a very bad back problem," she says. "You don't think
you're that sensitive. You think you're superwoman." Pedersen has since
learned that she's anything but. She visited a physical therapist who agreed
that her problems were work-related.
So-called musculoskeletal disorders -- upper body injuries caused by
performing repetitive motions or static positions -- are the fastest growing
workplace injury in the U.S., according to the Occupational Safety and
Health Commission, and while you've probably heard plenty about the dangers
these injuries present to employees, most small business owners neglect
to think they they can get hurt too. For sole proprietors like Pedersen,
being put out of commission by illness or injury just isn't an option.
The therapist helped Pedersen get well and taught her the basics of
ergonomic work practices. She began taking breaks during her workday and
performing stretching exercises. She purchased a $750 ergonomic chair that
features an adjustable seat, back and arm rests. She also added a mouse
with a built-in scroll tool and a separate keyboard with built-in wrist
rests for her laptop computer. Her total investment was about $1,000. Since
she has no employees -- her mother in Denmark does the bookkeeping -- Pedersen
was able to keep the cost of her ergonomic makeover to a minimum.
Pedersen didn't stop there. She decided to help others avoid the crippling
pain of musculoskeletal disorders by producing a computer screensaver,
which is intended to educate employees about ergonomics, and is being distributed
to companies in Denmark for use on their intranets. To do so, she partnered
with Interactive Media Solutions a client in her native Denmark that produces
educational CD-ROMs and Web sites for major corporations. They tested Ergosaver
(http://www.ergosaver.com) over the summer in Denmark, where Pedersen says
there is greater sensitivity to ergonomics. The screensaver, which is also
available for download on the site, provides ergonomic tips and reminds
PC users to take breaks and stretch.
Pedersen has learned that pain-free workdays are possible: "Just take
breaks; don't work 16 hours in a stretch," she advises. "I think that's
probably one of the things that is most typical when you start out in a
small business. It's your business, and you don't go home. You work until
the job is done." Of course, you deserve a break. Think of it this
way, you're doing your business a favor.
By Michele Marrinan