Enter The Neutral Zone

LaRochelle Greg 1 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

If Rod Serling, the creator and narrator of the original television series, The Twilight Zone (circa 1959-1964), portrayed an ergonomist, he would likely begin his show with the following:

“You unlock this door with the key of posture awareness.  Inside it is another dimension: a dimension not only of muscle and bone but of nerves, tendons, and ligaments; a journey into a wondrous region whose boundaries are that of limited reach and minimal stress.  Your next stop…The Neutral Zone.”

The handbook, Fundamentals and Assessment Tools for Occupational Ergonomics, cites a definition of neutral zone as “the part of the range of physiological motion, measured from the neutral position, within which the motion is produced with a minimal internal resistance.”  The University of Connecticut’s Occupational and Environmental Health Center describes neutral posture as the resting position of each joint in which there is the least tension or pressure on nerves, tendons, muscles, and bones.  It’s also the position in which muscles are at their resting length where maximum force is developed most efficiently.

Applying the neutral zone principle to workstations establishes a boundary of 18 to 24 inches for the placement of most frequently used items such as the keyboard, mouse, phone, and pen & pencil container.  A simple way of defining this boundary without use of a tape measure or ruler is to hold your forearms horizontally over the work surface with elbows against your torso, sweeping your hands back and forth like windshield wipers.  Less frequently used items such as reference books, desk organizers, and electric calculators should be situated within a secondary zone of 24 to 36 inches and slid closer when needed.  Personal effects such as photos of the family and pets should be located furthest away. 

By querying MEMIC's Safety Net Blog page with the word “neutral” in the search field, several archived posts appear with links to the main article.  One in particular, titled Ten Tips for a Perfect Fit, provides sound advice on achieving ergonomic comfort at the workstation.  So read this and related posts and enter The Neutral Zone!

Back to Routine Doesn't Mean Back to Pain

Back to school and back to work often means more time at a desk and in front of a computer screen. But those old desk jockey aches and pains don’t have to return with you from your summer vacation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal injuries caused by poor ergonomics take nearly 400,000 workers out of work for an average of 8 days each year. And, while many of us can’t avoid sitting in front of a computer for several hours a day, there are ways to decrease your chances of injury and time lost from work or school.

The first step is often an ergonomic evaluation of your work area and your body positioning as you sit at your computer.

Here are some recommendations from MEMIC’s Chief Ergonomist Allan Brown:

  • Position your head so your ears are over your shoulders
  • Place screen monitor 18-24 inches from your eyes
  • Adjust your monitor’s height so it’s in direct line of your sight
  • Relax your shoulders
  • Keep upper arms in line with your torso
  • Put elbows at 90 degrees with arms comfortably at your side
  • Make sure wrists are in neutral posture; not be bent up or down
  • Place mouse on same plane as your keyboard
  • Use a chair with a good lumbar support
  • Keep feet flat on the floor; if your feet don’t reach the floor, use a foot rest

If you don’t have access to an ergonomics expert or are unsure of your positioning, have a friend snap a picture of you at your workstation to see what your posture looks like.

But perhaps the most important piece of advice is to get up and move. Every hour you should take a stretch, go for a walk, talk to a friend, but make sure to get up and move throughout your day. Whatever your new fall routine looks like, make good ergonomics a part of it.

To Sit or to Stand, that is the Question... Part 1

Clendenning Donna Posted by Donna Clendenning

NIOSH (National Institute of Safety and Health) recently posted a blog regarding a sit/stand workstation pilot program they are undertaking “as part of a workplace health and wellbeing initiative to reduce sedentary work in our workplace.” In the May 13, 2010 MEMIC Safety Blog, MEMIC Chief Ergonomist Al Brown wrote guidelines addressing sit/stand workstations. These guidelines remain as pertinent today as they were in 2010.

The NIOSH pilot program is looking at employee satisfaction of the sit/stand workstation as well as the overall health benefits of sitting/standing throughout the day.  NIOSH is aware that sit/stand stations are relatively new to the workplace and that there may be drawbacks as well as benefits.  Some drawbacks may include too much standing or ergonomic issues that could arise as with any new workstation equipment.

There are a wide variety of sit/stand workstations on the market today.  Some raise and lower at the touch of a button, some adjust with support brackets mounted in partition tracks, and others are desktop sit/stand units. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars for a sit/stand workstation.  Several online sites including ErgoPrise and Superwarehouse sell units that attach to a regular workstation surface and provide adjustable height for the monitor(s), keyboard and mouse.    It’s an economical way to determine if a sit/stand workstation will work for you.

Also consider the need for an appropriate stool or chair for a sit/stand workstation.  A drafting stool/chair will provide periodic support for the buttocks and back, and relieve the feet when standing for longer periods of time.  A regular office chair cannot be adjusted high enough for the standing position.  A tall chair is required; one that has enough adjustment to maintain the users’ elbow in the same 90° angle whether sitting or standing. Websites for chairs include OfficeMax and Jaymil.

As far as NIOSH is concerned, the jury is still out until they complete their 12 month pilot program;  so far there have been rave reviews from those involved.  

Watch for Part II of this blog, “Transitioning to a Sit/Stand Workstation”.  Additionally, for MEMIC policyholders, consider registering for our March 28 webinar “The Benefits of Sit and Stand Workstations” or our Office Ergonomic Workshops in Auburn and Bangor.

A New Year's Resolution we can all benefit from... Improve your Safety Program

EricGrant Posted by Eric Grant

As we begin 2013, if you are like most people, you have probably made a New Year’s Resolution.   Consider the same for your business and more specifically, your injury prevention program.

Consider these ideas or brainstorm with your safety committee and/or leadership team:

  • Focus on company specific exposures - Work with your agent to review injury claims and loss runs.   Refer to your OSHA 300 log to determine areas of opportunity.
  • Develop a formal safety training agenda - OSHA compliance is a start but should not be the finish. Remember 15% of claims are associated with unsafe conditions, but 85% are caused by unsafe behaviors.
  • Conduct quality Event Investigations - Determine root cause and take corrective actions. Remember, look for the Facts, not Fault and operational involvement is key to an effective program. (Visit the MEMIC Safety Director for program materials)
  • Utilize your resources - Internal (supervisors/experienced workers, safety committee, leadership, HR) and external (MEMIC loss control, state consultation services, private consultants, your insurance agency). 
  • Recognize and reward positive behaviors - Consider implementing a formal program that reinforces positive actions taken by employees at all levels.
  • Pre-plan activities with a focus on safety & injury prevention - Have you considered implementing a Job Hazard Analysis Program? This may be the year to get it done!
  • Provide leadership accountability training - Integrate safety with business goals.  Management commitment is one of the foundations of a comprehensive health and safety program.
  • Explore ways to increase employee involvement - Examples include safety committees, routine self-inspections, participation in training agendas, and company sponsored activities/programs.
  • Implement a formal routine self-inspection program - What does OSHA want from businesses? Identify hazards and correct them! Get out there and inspect your workplace and implement follow up corrective actions. 

Reduce injury claim frequency and severity by implementing these nine objectives and communicating them as part of a formal SMART Goal.  To learn more about SMART goals, check out a 2008 Smart Goal posting from the Safety Net, or search online, keyword- SMART Goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely).

Have a Happy, and SAFE, New Year!

Active Sitting and Ergonomic Health

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

A few of my business account contacts have posed the question of what to look for in an ergonomic chair.  The short answer is adjustment features.  While a chair with multiple adjustment features offers ergonomic benefit, sitting for prolonged periods in any chair will eventually induce discomfort.  This is part of the reason I don't recommend a particular manufacturer's chair.  When we sit stationary, there is more pressure on our spinal discs than when standing, muscle activity becomes static, and pressure receptors in our back, hamstring, and buttock area sound a silent alarm to shift posture.  Otherwise, discomfort sets in.

Regardless of the chair maker or style, be sure it has multiple adjustments.  Chair height, seat pan angle, and lumbar support adjustments are all critical to proper ergonomic fit.  Most chairs come with adjustable arms; however, most people cannot adjust the arms to fit properly.  The common recommendation is to remove the arms; then they can’t be used in awkward postures such as with shoulders shrugged or leaning to one side. 

When it comes to sitting, the best posture is the next posture for promotion of dynamic muscle activity and relief from static discomfort.  The bottom line is sitting just isn’t very good for us and dynamic posture is helpful when we are forced to sit for long periods.  Better yet, be sure to get up and move around frequently.  Get the blood flowing, stay limber, and stretch gently to promote better health.  Lastly, remember that ergonomics is important at home as well as at work.   

MEMIC offers many safety tools and resources; check out our Ergonomic Safety Tips  available at  OSHA also offers a Work Station E-Tool with helpful information regarding proper office setup and chair adjustments. 

Recognize and Reduce Manual Pushing and Pulling Hazards

Scott Valorose 2012 Posted by Scott Valorose

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, injury and illness cases requiring days away from work remained largely unchanged from the prior year, although overexertion rates increased.  Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) rates also increased compared to 2009.  Among others, these losses were experienced by laborers and material movers.

Are your personnel involved in manually moving, pushing, pulling, or transporting materials?  Have you identified these terms in the descriptions of any experienced losses?  If your answer is “yes” to either question, consider the following guidelines to recognize and reduce your hazards:

1. Look to, or better yet, at your employees.  In addition to any difficulties or problems your employees are telling you about, look for the following visual cues as they work:

  • Strained facial expressions – it’s possible that their facial expressions may be telling you that their efforts are high or demanding much of their physical capacity.
  • Leaning in to it – employees tend to stay more upright when force demands are low, but use their own body weight to get things moving when higher forces are required.
  • Somewhat erratic or jerky efforts – quick motions or efforts may be used to generate or halt movement when loads are high or conditions are adverse, as opposed to smooth, fluid, or appearing effortless when forces are low.

2. Look at your workplace conditions.  Pushing or moving materials on carts, dollies, or pallet jacks can become more demanding due to multiple turns or changes in direction, narrow aisles, doorways and thresholds, ramps, damaged flooring or expansion joints, or poor housekeeping.  Minimize changes of direction and elevation with good planning, layouts, and work methods.  Regularly inspect housekeeping and floor conditions.

3. Understand the forces involved.  Look at the loads or weights being handled as a general estimate; recommendations for maximum loads have included 500 pounds for four wheel carts and 1,500 pounds for manual pallet jacks.  That said, push or pull forces are typically not the same as the weight of the load being moved.  Under the most favorable of conditions (i.e., smooth level surface, well maintained carts, wheels aligned in direction of travel) forces may be as low as 2% of the load weight.  Forces quickly rise when these conditions are not met.  Consider measuring the actual forces using a tension pull gauge possibly found in your maintenance shop.  Recommended force levels have included:

  • 50 pounds or less to start the cart, dolly, or other device in motion.
  • 40 pounds or less to keep a device moving.
  • 25 pounds or less when the force has to be sustained for more than a minute or the device has to be pushed more than 10 feet.

Maximum recommended forces can change depending on handle heights, distances, frequency, gender, age, and percent of population you are trying to accommodate.  Commonly, at least 75% of females should be able to perform the manual material handling work without undue strain or fatigue.

4. Train employees to push as often as possible.  Pushing allows employees to better utilize their body weight when higher forces are required.  Pushing with both hands also helps to minimize twisting and reaching.  Acceptable forces can be to be up to 20% higher when pushing as opposed to pulling, and pulling, more so the pushing has been found to increase compressive loading of the spinal discs.  Train employees to identify the swivel wheels or casters on some carts and push from that end; forces required to turn the carts should be lower.  Consider labeling the associated handle, “Push From This End,” or remove the opposite handle to eliminate any possible confusion.

5. Perform preventative maintenance on equipment.  Regular preventative maintenance is critical for bearings and other components to operate as efficiently as designed and intended.  Consider going beyond any recommendation provided by the manufacturer or supplier, as instruction is limited depending on the device.

6. Consider powered equipment.  If loads are heavy, forces and frequencies are high, distances are long, or injuries continue to occur, consider providing powered equipment.  When looking for possible equipment, know your exposures and facility conditions; consider any limitations in space, aisle width, floor capacities, etc; consider associated requirements of inspection, storage, charging, eyewash stations, etc; and your budget.

If further assistance is needed, contact your loss control consultant and check out the following resources:


Laptop Ergonomics

Allan Brown Posted by Allan Brown

Today almost everyone is connected to the electronic world.  School children, young and middle aged workers, and older workers are all using portable electronic devices for school, work, and social media interaction.  These activities are very common and sometimes necessary, but are also exposing our bodies to different strains.  The lack of movement with prolonged poor posture can contribute to a lifetime of discomfort. 

Laptop computers pose a difficult ergonomic challenge.  The portable design, although convenient, can create early unconscious patterns of poor posture.  When a child or young worker is using a laptop, even if they are sitting at a desk or table, the screen is too low and the keyboard and mouse devices are often too high.  If you curl up on the sofa, easy chair, or in a bed for hours while using a laptop the posture issues become more severe. 

Students or young workers are more tolerant of this forward head posture and flat or extended back because of their youth.  As their youth wanes the process of aging settles in.  Those practiced postures of their youth, good or bad, are difficult to change.  They sit in a “C” shaped posture with a forward head reaching for the keyboard and mouse.  Often they are not comfortable and can’t figure out why.  Use of a laptop or any small input device has had them in awkward posture for extended periods of time.  This becomes unconscious behavior and a habit.  This, in turn, increases the strain to the neck and back. 

We fight the forces of gravity everyday and the only way to reduce this strain is stand up tall, stay physically active, and improve posture.  Start by:

  1. Using a separate keyboard and mouse.
  2. Utilize a standing area or desk with an adjustable chair.  Yes, standing and working on a computer can be a good thing.  This puts less strain on the low back.  A stool can be added to allow the option of sitting or standing. 
  3. Discuss the importance of good sitting posture and encourage workers to get up frequently and take stretch breaks.  Walking during lunch breaks or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can be helpful as well. 

Balancing our bodies is a lot like riding a bicycle; it’s easier when it’s moving.   We are not built to sit still for extended periods of time.  For more information, policyholders can use the MEMIC Safety Director,  or anyone can reference the OSHA Ergonomic Solutions E-Tool.  

Laptop type ergo

The Little Things Can Cause Back Pain

Allan Brown Posted by Allan Brown

Back pain is something that most of us will experience sometime in our lives.  Often the cause of back pain is misunderstood.  We do not have to be lifting something heavy to cause an injury.  Often it is the little things we do on a daily basis that initiate the injury process and it may be the lift or twist that is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

Consider this:

  • Sitting places up to 50% more force on the back compared to standing erect.
  • Prolonged sitting or standing with a forward head or slightly bent forward posture increases the pressure on the lumbar disc and changes the pressure to the disk back wall next to spinal nerve roots.
  • Our body sags in response to gravity; this adds stress to our back.  Poor posture, tight muscles, and weak core strength increase the risk of back injuries. 
  • We sit at work more than ever in the past. 
  • Pain, tingling, and numbness can go from the back to your foot and anywhere in between.  Often the cause of this pain is in your back.  The discomfort anywhere else is considered referred pain.  
  • Heavy and awkward lifting are back pain contributors.

What you can do:

  • Take stock of your daily behaviors and posture.  Do you walk, sit, and stand in good posture?
  • Adjust your chair to fit your posture.  Ensure the back support fills the inward curve of your low back. Sit back in the chair and up on your pelvis.
  • After prolonged sitting or driving, stand up and gently perform a back bend to neutralize the disc pressure.
  • Eliminate all lifts from the floor.
  • Set up your work bench to reduce any extended reaches and awkward bending.
  • As you age your body changes.  Gravity’s pull seems greater and your muscles weaken and shorten.   Stretching and strengthening can help slow this change.  Maintaining good posture, core strength, and flexibility are keys to slowing these changes. 
  • Good sleep and good food are essential to a healthy body.

More resources can be found within the Safety Director at; check out the Resource Library by searching “back injury” or click the Ergonomics tab. 

Female Spine back pain

Dealing with Dual Monitors

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

Dual computer monitor use is becoming more common in today’s office environment.  As this technology increases our workload, ergonomic setup becomes even more important.   Here are some tips for proper setup:  

  1. If both monitors are used fairly equally (50/50 or 60/40) they should be positioned directly in front of the user, corresponding to the centerline of the keyboard, and angled slightly in a shallow V configuration. 
  2. If one monitor is used more frequently (70/30 or 80/20) the primary monitor should be positioned front and center with the secondary monitor flanking it on either side at a 30 degree angle.
  3. In both cases place the monitors as close together as possible.
  4. Place monitor height so the top tool bar is at eye level; this promotes neutral neck posture. 
  5. Bifocal or trifocal eyeglass wearers should adjust the monitor level lower to avoid neck extension.  
  6. Proper monitor distance from the person depends on visual accommodation, but in general should be an arm’s length away or 18-24 inches from the user’s face.
  7. When viewing the monitors, use eye movements more than head and neck rotation.
    If the monitor bases reduce available work surface space consider mounting the monitors on a single post monitor arm or add an articulating keyboard/mouse tray under the work surface.  This will free up more space to place an adjustable angle document holder on the work surface behind the keyboard.

It may take a few days to adjust to a dual monitor setup.  If discomfort sets in, review the proper setup and make sure to stretch periodically with a focus on the neck, upper back, and shoulders. 

For more information MEMIC policyholders can access online ergonomic resources within the Safety Director at

Dual computer monitors

Preventing Slips and Falls

Koch Peter 2 Posted by Peter Koch

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 294,620 employees suffered injuries from slips, trips, or falls.  Of these, 221,100 were from falls to the same level or slip or trip events. 

The National Floor Safety Institute or NFSI  reports : 

  • Slips and falls are the leading cause of workers' compensation claims and are the leading cause of occupational injury for people aged 15-24 years.
  • Compensation & medical costs associated with employee slip/fall accidents is approximately $70 billion annually (National Safety Council Injury Facts 2003 edition).

All slips and falls are preventable with a little planning and forethought.  Since we may have little control of the surface we tread upon, slip and trip avoidance depend heavily on YOU.  Your attention to your surroundings, what you have on your feet, and what you’re doing in the moment are all critical.

Consider the following areas when planning for prevention or analyzing a slip/fall event:

1)  The surface,
2)  The awareness or behavior,
3)  The footwear,
4)  The environment.

It is usually awareness/behavior that contributes the most to a slip or fall occurrence, but the best attack on slip and fall hazards is a combined evaluation of these four areas.

The following is a checklist and mnemonic when evaluating slip and fall hazards and developing a plan for preventing them.

  • Condition and lighting of the surface and pathwayBlog photo
  • Condition of the Footwear
  • Surface Encumbrances (obstacles, fluids)
  • Pitch and Condition of Stairs
  • Location and Condition of Handrails
  • Relevance of Pathway
  • Behavior/Condition of the Worker
  • Pace of Work in/around Pathway


This is not necessarily a complete list of areas to evaluate, so don’t limit yourself when trying to develop a plan for prevention or in post incident analysis.

So Take a MEMIC Minute and remember, ALL slip and fall events are PREVENTABLE!