Ergonomics: In Regular Roller Chairs, ‘People are just Dying,’ Says Expert


By Liz Carey

Hartford, CT ( – With workers’ compensation rates falling nearly 10 percent in Connecticut, some experts are citing ergonomics as one of the reasons why. 

John Mastropietro, chairman of Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Commission, said employers improving workplace safety with better ergonomics and training is one reason, according to the Hartford Courant.

But experts say implementing ergonomic principles can help reduce repetitive injuries, as well as neck and back injuries — common workers’ compensation claims.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain account for nearly 70 million US physician office visits each year.

And according to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, musculoskeletal disorders are the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, musculoskeletal disorders account for 33 percent of all worker injury and illness cases.

Implementing ergonomic solutions in the office is often less expensive than the cost of the workers’ compensation claims that arise from not doing it, said Tom Hilgen, Willis senior vice president at the North American-based office in Charlotte, NC. Willis is a global risk advisor and brokerage firm.

“In a recent meeting, a client said, ‘We do not have $50k to invest in ergonomics.’ Yet they were averaging $8M in workers’ compensation claims per year. Where is that money coming from?” Hilgen said in a post on Willis’ blog. “Many companies are paying a lot of money in claims that could be avoided with the right ergonomics program — but to determine the right program you need to understand the kind of injuries and losses your company is actually experiencing.”

Costs may vary, he said, but many ergonomic solutions are relatively inexpensive, if not outright free.

“Every industry is unique, but most ergonomics solutions that we develop and recommend are under $1,000. And many are free — just changes in processes and procedures,” Hilgen told Business Insurance.

Tracie Renee understands how beneficial ergonomics in the workplace can be. A licensed massage therapist in San Diego County, CA, Renee works with companies to assess the workplaces of her clients, offering chair massages to employees and assessing them for possible workplace injuries in conjunction with neck, shoulder and back pain.

Among her clients were members of the San Diego City College Dispatch Center. When she first visited the dispatch center, the dispatchers had been given new, expensive chairs… chairs that made no difference for the dispatchers.

“In standard office roller chairs, people are just dying,” Renee said in an interview with, noting that the chairs create a slouching posture, and that extended episodes of working seated cause an employee to have “zero movement” in the shoulder and neck, and a scrunched diaphragm that causes shallow breathing.

Renee recommended an ergonomic wobble chair for one dispatcher. Before long the dispatch center had replaced all five with wobble chairs.

Kevin Costello, president of United States Ergonomics, a nation-wide ergonomic consulting business, said ergonomic solutions can be free.

“If we design a job and design it right to begin with, that’s inexpensive, because you’re going to design the job in the first place, right?” Costello said. “The other thing when we look at an operation is what can be changed in just how an employee does a job. We can help them by showing them a new way to hold an object, or to move an object.”

Sometimes, the solutions, he said, can be as simple as changing hands.

“When we’re in an office environment, we’ll make a sweep through the area and monitor the office workers, and then we’ll spend a few minutes with each one of them,” he said. “Sometimes, all they need is a foot rest. Sometimes, they’ll need a chair adjustment. That costs nothing. Sometimes, it can be as simple as if you find that you have pain in your right wrist from mousing, mouse with your left hand for a while. If you’re going to be doing a lot of mousing, it pays to learn how to do it with both hands.”

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