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Ergovera's Ergo Savvy Newsletter )
 We help protect people, your company's most valuable asset November 2002 

In This Issue
Give me a break!
More breaks improve work
Follow-up prevents problems
Credits and notices

Published by Ergovera Ergonomic Consulting to help you keep up on ergonomic innovations, so you can protect your employees and increase their productivity. Please pass it on to your colleagues and friends.

Escaping to serene, lush Hawaii on my honeymoon recently reminded me of the importance of taking real breaks from the stresses of our everyday work. After serious hiking in Kauai for nine days (every trail is straight up-and-down, rocky or slippery, and very hard to walk on), I felt stronger and rejuvenated. Since returning, I've been wondering how to help my clients and their employees experience this sense of well-being sometime each day, too.

So I searched medical journals for the latest recommendations on breaks and found a consistent theme: taking short breaks away from a computer workstation hourly not only helps relieve musculoskeletal and eye strain, but one study showed that it actually increased productivity. I hope the summary that follows helps you find ways to recharge and refresh, too.Deidre Rogers, RN, MS, CAE

President of Ergovera Ergonomic Consulting

Not long ago, ergonomic experts were advising that computer users take microbreaks of one or 2 minutes as often as every 10 minutes throughout the day. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that people found that downright distracting! The most recent research results counter that recommendation about such short, frequent breaks, yet confirm that extra breaks can prevent or alleviate symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), and eyestrain. Plus, these studies show that more breaks make workers more productive.

A report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the IRS [Galinsky et al.] concluded that taking a total of 50 minutes of break time each day helped prevent or alleviate both musculoskeletal discomfort and eyestrain. (That 50 minutes includes the two 15-minute breaks required by law for anyone working an 8-hour shift.) Another investigation [McLean et al.] found that, "Microbreaks had a positive effect on reducing discomfort in all areas studied during computer terminal work, particularly when breaks were taken at 20-minute intervals."

Researchers who conducted a different NIOSH study [Dababneh et al.] compared benefits of taking either 12 three-minute or 4 nine-minute breaks. They found that, "Neither of the two experimental rest break schedules had a negative effect on production, and the nine-minute break schedule improved discomfort ratings for the lower extremities." So the basic conclusion is this: By allowing your employees to take more breaks, you can avoid potential problems and actually increase their alertness, job satisfaction and productivity.


Dababneh, A. J., Swanson, N., & Shell, R. L. (2001). Impact of added rest breaks on the productivity and well-being of workers. Ergonomics, 44 (2), 164-174.
Galinsky, T. L., Swanson, N. G., Sauter, S. L., Hurrell, J. J., & Schleifer, L. M. (2000). A field study of supplementary rest breaks for data-entry operators. Ergonomics, 43(5), 622-638.
McLean, L., Tingley, M., Scott, R. N., & Rickards, J. (2001). Computer terminal work and the benefit of microbreaks. Applied Ergonomics, 32(3), 225- 237.

Prevention and early intervention are essential in avoiding work time lost due to physical and mental strain from prolonged periods of computer or other repetitive-motion work (or worse, temporary or permanent disability claims). It is also vital that you continually monitor the improvement or worsening of any physical problems reported by employees that may result from their work.

Unless you have a certified ergonomist on staff, it's important to protect both your employees and your company by requesting an evaluation by an Ergovera ergonomist. With conscientious follow-up, you can make sure that the employee's symptoms and work habits have improved and that the employee is following recommendations.

Copyright © 2002, Deidre Rogers and Ergovera Ergonomic Consulting. All rights reserved. Reuse in any form must be requested and granted in writing.

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