We are pleased to announce our featured researcher from the March newsletter, Dr. David Rempel, MD, MPH. David is a Physician of Occupational Medicine, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, a Professor of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley, and a core researcher at The Ergonomics Program at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) at UC Berkeley. As a member of the interdisciplinary research team at HealthyWorkplaces, he has provided insight for the HealthyWorkplaces research for the Office Ergonomic Research Committee Project (OERC), which seeks to create an inventory of scientifically-sound productivity measures for use in human factors/ergonomic research studies.

Dr. Rempel’s research interests lie in peripheral nerve entrapment, including carpal tunnel syndrome, work-related tendon disorders, hand biomechanics, and the design of hand tools. He has performed research on ergonomic office interventions such lighting, sit-stand workstations, alternative keyboards, computer mice, game controllers, office chairs, forearm support, monitor placement, and the use of hand gestures for computer input. His key publications include “Guidelines for wrist posture based on carpal tunnel pressure thresholds,” “Workplace and individual factors in wrist tendinosis among blue-collar workers,” and “The effects of visual display distance on eye accommodation, head pressure, and vision and neck symptoms.” HealthyWorkplaces interviewed Dr. Rempel to delve deeper into ergonomic strategies that can be implemented specifically in workspaces with computers and monitors for worker well-being.

For one, lighting and vision are often underestimated factors contributing to awkward postures and fatigue and discomfort in the workplace. For example, Rempel explains that glare on computer monitors can cause visual discomfort and may lead workers to lean forward to better see the characters. Glare can be caused by a window either directly in front of or behind the worker. Simple solutions include orienting the monitor so that glare sources are to the side, using indirect overhead lighting (i.e. reflecting light toward the ceiling) to spread out the light source, or cutting the glare from windows with blinds.

In addition, the font sizes on computer monitors are often too small and that requires us to lean forward to get our work done.  Typically, the characters and numbers on the screen should be larger than 2.5mm in height. It is also important to consider that the lenses of the eyes grow more rigid with age making it more difficult to focus on small text. Thus, large monitors with large font sizes are will help reduce discomfort and fatigue and will improve productivity.

Rempel also provided background regarding key interventions to avoid musculoskeletal discomfort in the workplace.  Many workers now use laptop computers at their workplace or home office.  If they are used for more than a few hours per day, a large monitor and separate keyboard and mouse can be plugged in to reduce neck and shoulder flexion and pain.  The problem of long-term use becomes worse with mobile devices, like smart phones.  If used for long hours the devices require users to flex the head forward and down, which fatigues and aggravates neck muscles.

Finally, selecting the proper mouse can help reduce hand and arm pain.  A conventional mouse that positions the hand so that the palm is facing down is not a comfortable position for some people to maintain and can put strain on the muscles and tendons in the forearm.  An alternative mouse that allows the palm to point more toward the keyboard, like a handshake, may help.

HealthyWorkplaces uses the expertise and information gained from Dr. Rempel’s research to design and implement research projects that promote health and well-being of workers.  We anticipate our research for OERC will encourage empirically validated, healthy interventions in the workplace, such as those presented by David Rempel.