Get up and move

University of Alberta occupational therapy student shares tips for ergonomics month

Amy Knezevich - 11 October 2019

October is both occupational therapy (OT) month and ergonomics month!

In celebration of both, I spoke to Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine student Emily Wood about her upcoming invited talk for Ergo Month, what ergonomics is, how it relates to OT and some tips.

What led you to ergonomics?

I have wanted to be an occupational therapist since I began my studies, but have also had a big interest in the study of ergonomics.

I am originally from the beautiful east coast of Canada, New Brunswick. I was led to the study of ergonomics in my third year of university by my thesis professor Dr. Usha Kuruganti at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, as I was looking for a minor to focus on in my last year of kinesiology. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with a major in ergonomics and then went on to complete a Master of Science degree in Exercise and Sports Sciences with a focus on ergonomics and occupational health. I am currently a second-year student in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

I am interested in ergonomics as it is a field that combines so many of my interests. I enjoy learning about how our bodies move and interact with different spaces and how this may negatively impact individuals when working.

What does an ergonomist do?

Ergonomists can do many different things, but essentially, they focus on how to design and arrange workplace environments or products to best fit those who use them. Ergonomics is commonly known for office ergonomics and office chairs, but there is more to it than that. Ergonomists can explore how different physical and psychological factors may influence an individual's work environment. Ergonomists can implement modifications to a work environment to reduce the risk of injury.

Who can benefit from an ergonomist?

If someone is uncomfortable in their work environment, they may benefit from an ergonomist to identify risk factors and provide helpful solutions to facilitate a more productive work environment. Common factors an ergonomist would assess include stress, awkward posture, poor body mechanics and harmful environmental factors (noise, temperature, lighting, air quality).

Do you have any quick tips for students and other people who work at desks?

The simplest and one of the most effective tips is to change postures and move every 30 minutes. As simple as it sounds, it prevents us from maintaining a static posture for a prolonged period of time. As a student, I know the benefits of eating well, exercising and sleeping can have a significant improvement on our overall health. Don't be afraid to get up and move!

How is ergonomics related to occupational therapy?

Ergonomics is similar to OT because therapists often look at environmental factors that may influence a specific situation or condition. Occupational therapists may complete assessments and provide treatment strategies that improve work environments. OTs also advocate for workspace improvements and discuss their importance.

What are some projects you have worked on as a student ergonomist?

Another ergonomics minor student and I examined a craft brewery in Fredericton, New Brunswick. We looked at seven different workers in the brewery and examined their posture while assessing their body positioning during work tasks. We offered a few recommendations in work-place design as the brewery was expanding their operations.

For my thesis research, I examined meal hall workers at the university cafeteria and assessed their heart rate, handgrip strength and muscle activation (surface electromyography or sEMG). It was interesting to combine ergonomic assessments with physiological measurements using sEMG.

What are your areas of interest in your current studies?

As I begin my second year of studies, I have found I am interested in learning more about how an individual's mental health can play a role in their occupations. In my previous studies there was not an opportunity to focus on mental health, and I believe that is one of the key features that this program and career offer. Physical and environmental changes can help improve a workplace, but there also needs to be a focus on the importance of mental health factors.

What is the background on your invited speech at ergoCentric for Ergo Month?

I will be speaking on the "Experiences of a Student Ergonomist" on Thursday, October 24 from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. The talk is sponsored by the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE) and ergoCentric.

I am a member of the northern/prairie region of ACE and was invited to speak by the regional president. I attended an ACE conference in 2016 where I was able to connect with many different colleagues across Canada. This has allowed me to have some of the opportunities I have had to date. I was also fortunate to win the ACE graduate student research award in 2016. It was such an amazing experience meeting other students and practitioners and learning about the research that goes on in the field nationally. I look forward to highlighting the representation of students and new graduates.

ErgoCentric has kindly offered to host the event at their first showroom location in Western Canada, which is located here in Edmonton, to help celebrate ErgoMonth in Alberta.