Ergonomics: Not Just Human Factors Engineering
Abie is more than a dog walker. He is a pack leader and local celebrity. He even looks a little like John Travolta. He walks with a swagger and says that this is because one of his legs is shorter than the other due to a childhood accident that kept him in a full leg cast for months. Every day hundreds of people he knows and doesn’t know stop to offer him words of encouragement or criticism. Dozens more take his photo. He is friendly and gracious to all of them. No unhealthy office, desk, chair, keyboard, monitor and mouse for him. His work environment is a pack of dogs and he has engineered it with great ingenuity. He is connected to the dogs’ leashes by way of a steel clip chained around a hard plastic back belt frame whose cloth cover has long since worn off. Sometimes the frame digs into his back. He walks with a heavy skateboard under his arm for more than five hours a day. He uses a hand held device a lot and pulls more than two hundred kilo of dog. Still, at the end of every day his body doesn’t ache too much and he is not fatigued. What is he doing right that his body is so forgiving and how can this be relevant for other occupations?
1.Good Engineering Comes From Fully Understanding Demands of Job
Abie pulls two hundred kilo or more of dog. When he started out in this line of work, he held the leashes in his hands. Then he hooked them on the front and back wheels of the skateboard that he carries under his arm but he noticed that his arms, shoulders and back all hurt from the constant pulling.
Today the dogs are attached by hook and chain to what is left of a back belt. When the dogs pull on the chain or leashes there is a lot of strain on his shoulder, neck and back. His lower back wouldn’t be able to tolerate the strain on a regular basis. He knows how to discipline his dogs so the chain is almost always slack and there is very little drag on his lower back most of the time. He is there to lead, not to pull. The chain is for connectivity.
2. Constant Movement Compensates For Bad Habits
If you or I had Abie’s telephone habits, our necks would be killing us. He has freed his hands from leashes but the still grips the phone between his neck and shoulder most of the time, stressing his neck, shoulders and arms. Abie grips his skateboard all day with his left hand. He often texts with his right. If he keeps texting with his neck at this angle he is liable to get text neck. If you sat at a computer all day and held your phone like this, you would be in big trouble.
But Abie isn’t in big trouble because he is always on the move. Maintaining a static position is the worst thing you can do and he is seldom static. He is constantly changing his body positions so for now at least, his body forgives him for his imperfect habits. Besides, he just got a date on okcupid and he is feeling great. If you are sitting at a computer for more than two hours at a time, or six hours a day, your body is probably not so forgiving.
3. Orthotics For the Fasciitis, Picking Up Poop To Keep Limber
Abie has plantar fasciitis. He developed heel spurs from a job in the food industry that kept him on his feet ten hours a day. Wearing skateboarding shoes, a necessity of the current job, exacerbates the problem. Orthotics take care of the heel spur. A physiotherapist gave him some stretches for the fascia but he never does them or any stretching at all. He also doesn’t spend time or money at the gym.
Putting down water and picking up poop give Abie his squats and lunges and keeps him limber. Notice his knees are bent, protecting his lower back. A few easy stretches for his lower back at the end of the day to release his muscles would complete his workout and keep him injury free.
4. Being Fit Is The Best Protection From Fatigue and Injury
Abie used to be fat before he began leading the pack. Now he is fit. He eats a big breakfast every day and doesn’t munch on any junk food on the long circuit around the neighborhood. He experiences almost no fatigue after pulling a pack of dogs through the neighborhood for hours with a skateboard under his arm. I am exhausted by the time I leave him at the halfway point. He is in shape from all the walking and skateboarding he does and uses his large muscle groups (hips, thighs, calves) to do the work of bending and pulling. This protects his back.
5. Unchain Yourself From Your Work
Abie unchains himself frequently during the day. Do you?