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The Importance of Rest Breaks in the Work Day

Monday, October 12, 2009
By Anne Kramer

Maintaining any single position or concentrating on the same task for long periods of time places considerable stress on the body, even if the position or task is not physically demanding. Among computer users, prolonged periods at the computer can result in a variety of injuries:

  • Back, neck, and shoulder pain, as a result of long term static posture
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, from excessive keyboard and mouse usage
  • Visual fatigue or blurred vision due to uninterrupted staring at the screen
  • Headaches, as another side effect of eye fatigue
  • Nerve compression, from maintaining the same position for long time periods

Intensive computer work is defined as continued keyboard use for an hour or more. This kind of use results in the greatest number of office place injuries. These injuries, however, are easily prevented by incorporating rest breaks into the work day. When coupled with good workstation design, short rest breaks improve safety and increase productivity. These breaks may include switching to a different task, such as filing or making a phone call. But these “working breaks” of task-switching should not constitute the only breaks in the work day. On the contrary, workers need the opportunity to stop work-related tasks altogether, stretch their muscles, and give their eyes—and brains—a short break.

To make the most out of these breaks, which need not last longer than five minutes, employees need instruction on how often to take breaks, and what to do during breaks. This ergonomic instruction can take different forms, based on each employee’s needs.

For employees whose duties are less computer-centric, stress break workout cards provide easy, illustrated, step-by-step directions for a desk-based workout. For those who do intensive computer work, a computer-based software program provides extensive guidance, even reminding the user when it is time to take a break. This software teaches proper ergonomic posture, models stretches, and tracks an employee’s computer use patterns.

Adding rest breaks to the work day does more than simply make workers more comfortable. Incorporating a rest break program translates into tangible savings for employers:

  • Less money is spent on employee injuries and rehabilitation. Because employees are less likely to incur repetitive stress injuries, employers reduce health-care and worker’s compensation costs.
  • Employees miss less time at work, which means less cost due to wasted days. When employees are home due to an injury, employers risk reduced productivity and sometimes even additional costs to hire and train a new employee.
  • Taking breaks improves concentration, improving productivity. Employees approach tasks with less fatigue, making fewer mistakes and completing tasks more quickly. This translates into increased revenue.

Frequent computer use poses a threat to worker health. By encouraging workers to take frequent, short rest breaks throughout the day, employers not only protect their employees’ health, but also improve productivity and overall revenue.

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