No Pain, All Gain

Usually we talk about how the latest technology can help meeting planners. This time, we'll talk about how to keep technology from hurting you.

Ergonomics is the study of the design and arrangement of equipment so that people will interact with the equipment in a healthy, comfortable, and efficient manner. Also called "fitting the task to the human," it's a discipline that increases productivity by reducing strain, fatigue, and even long-term injuries like cumulative trauma disorders.

In the Office

All of us spend too much time at a computer, but that fact doesn't have to take a physical toll. For instance, "All the elements of your computer should be right in front of you—if your keyboard or monitor is on one side or the other, it puts a lot of strain on you," says Tim Jones, manager for safety at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. What's more, the monitor should be close to eye level: "Tilting your head puts pressure on your neck and spine," he adds. Also, change your eyes' distance from the monitor every 30 minutes so they refocus; and when typing, keep wrists flat—not cocked upwards, downwards, or to one side.

Further, think about how you multitask and where items are positioned for you to interact with them. "You want to be in neutral position when sitting at your computer, and you should not set up your phone or other gadgets in a way that forces you to work while you're twisting your neck or trunk," says Jones. The telephone headset brings the convenience of hands-free communications to cell and office phones and is well worth it.

Other advice from Jones and from Dr. Ronald Harwin, co-author of the book Healthy Computing: Get an easily adjustable chair that pivots and leans; get up and walk around every 30 minutes; if you often sit with legs crossed, alternate legs, and move them from right to left to change hip and leg position; use a back pad for your chair to provide support.

In the Meeting

When doing a pre-meeting walk-through, make sure the AV staff heeds your requests for cords to be taped down or under carpets, and for equipment to be away from doorways and aisles. What's more, look closely at the flooring, Jones suggests, as carpets reduce shock to the legs and feet. But if there is no carpet, remember that tile or linoleum is slippery when even a bit wet.

Jones suggests that each breakout room have at least 30 foot-candles of light for adequate vision from all spots in the room. For lecture speakers, "Standing behind the podium is fatiguing, and a moving speaker also keeps the audience alert," he adds. Also, offer attendees a stretching break every 30 minutes. In fact, never ask delegates to sit straight through an entire morning or afternoon; two hours is about the maximum for sitting in a conference chair continuously—even if the chairs are touted as ergonomically friendly.

On the Road

For you, the ergonomics challenge starts before you leave for the airport. "If you have lots of handout material, e-mailing or printing it on site is far easier than carrying or shipping it," says Jones. Limiting your lifting while you are physically stiff from the rigors of travel keeps you from getting hurt. For the same reason, Jones suggests renting audiovisual equipment such as data projectors on site. "And consider using curbside check-in at the airport and bellman services at the hotel," he says.