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Ergonomics on the Run: Avoiding Injuries during Business Travel

Thursday, October 02, 2008
By Anne Kramer

So you’ve managed to make your cube cozy and comfortable: everything from the chair to the stapler is in just the right position, every corner is properly lit, and there’s even a footrest hiding under your desk. Although you can’t take your cube through airport security or squeeze that footrest into your carry-on, it is still possible to bring ergonomics on your business trip.

The first hurdle in business travel is carrying all the work-related accoutrements, from the laptop to the presentation handouts. The weight of all these items accumulates, and can add up to back and shoulder strain, which are easily avoidable.

  • Consider using a wheeled carry-on bag with an ergonomic handle for the laptop and its accessories. Since these items’ combined weight often exceeds ten pounds, carrying them on the back or shoulders could result in injury.

  • Some backpacks offer padded compartments especially for laptops. Look for one with wide, padded straps and a hip belt. Keep in mind, though, that the backpack itself will add to the total weight you carry, so find one that is lightweight.

  • If you are headed straight to the boardroom and cannot dispense with that briefcase, frequently alternate the hand or shoulder you use. This will distribute the impact over both sides of the body.

  • To avoid overloading a single bag, place other items such as files in a separate bag altogether. That way the load can be balanced more easily.

Transporting half the office to the plane is, however, only half the battle. In the cramped quarters of the coach cabin, completing any work can be difficult. But it is possible to make even this environment more ergonomically friendly.

  • If possible, book a window seat. This allows you to control the window shade, which can be lowered to reduce glare on the computer screen.

  • Maintain proper posture by bringing your own lumbar support. Light and compact, inflatable lumbar cushions are a travel-friendly accessory.

  • If your main task is viewing, such as watching a presentation, use a portable laptop stand or stack magazines or books under the laptop to raise the screen and reduce tilting the head and neck.

  • If you will be doing a substantial amount of typing, place the keyboard at a height that allows the hands and wrists to remain neutral. The tray table is usually too high, so place the laptop in its intended location, directly on your lap.

  • Protect confidential information from wandering eyes with the use of a laptop privacy filter.

  • Just as you would in the office, take frequent breaks. Walk up and down the aisle if possible, but at the very least, move your feet and look away from the screen regularly.
With some tweaking, an airplane seat can be almost as productive and safe as your regular office workstation.

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