Improper Computer Furniture is a Looming Legal Liability for Schools

Court cases for “repetitive motion injuries” and “carpal tunnel syndrome” are waiting to happen to schools. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates such injuries amount to $27 billion in medical bills and lost productivity, but schools are doing much to reduce the risk.

According to a study of 95 elementary students in 11 schools by Lorraine E. Maxwell, Ph.D., at Cornell University, 61 percent fell into a range for concern, and the remaining 39 percent demonstrated indications for postural risk. None scored in the acceptable comfort range. The study also found that students have grown larger during the last 30 years, but many student work environments still are designed for the smaller students.

Classroom furniture manufacturers say school administrators sidestep the problem, largely because ergonomically correct furniture costs twice as much as regular furniture. “We need to put the money on the desks, not in the desks,” said a school technology director in Indianapolis. Another issue is that classroom furniture is so durable that it isn’t replaced often.

In short, ergonomics is a hard sell. “I find a lot of school administrators fight ergonomics, and there’s a good reason for it,” says an Oregon design researcher. “Such fear and antagonism have built up between administrators, teachers, unions, and parents on a host of topics….No one wants to call attention to more potential problems.” Solutions include upgrading classroom adjustability in small increments. When you do reorder, don’t just duplicate your past orders. Realize that solutions such as under-desk keyboard trays begin to address the potential for postural injuries. Also, consider furniture manufacturers outside traditional school and office equipment companies.

The good news: Children are much more flexible than adults and are less prone to postural injuries. Moreover, they recover from such injuries more rapidly than adults. Even so, notes the head of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health, ill-fitting equipment wouldn’t be accepted for the school sports team, and “poor-fitting computer equipment should not be accepted either.”

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