An interview with Craig Stewart, ASP (associate safety professional) of Kare Products, Boulder, CO.
When you think of ergonomics, what comes to mind for most of us might be an office chair with good support, an alternatively shaped keyboard and a mouse that takes months to get used to. But if you talk with Craig Stewart (of Kare Products), when it comes to ergonomics you’ll realize that it’s an art form which engulfs almost every aspect of your daily surroundings. And by the way, that ergo keyboard may be the last item on Craig’s list.
Craig, how long have been involved in ergonomics and how did you start?
I’ve been a part of the ergonomics industry for 20 years now. I started with designing orthopedic products for doctors and patients, aimed at maintaining a better posture and support overcoming injuries and post surgery. Those products facilitated a faster recovery by promoting healthier postures.
How do you define ergonomics?
I see ergonomics as the study of work. Specifically, designing the environment to fit the physical capabilities of the worker, taking into account his/her size and height, height of work area/desk and tasks. The art of fitting human beings into the environment also includes addressing the quality of the surroundings by looking at environmental factors such as air quality (removing pollutants), the amount of light, temperature, noise and even the psychological environment (for reducing stress). When designing for an organization, the first step is analyzing the population in terms of size, physical needs, tasks, and workflow. This root info when applied to the overall design will ultimately bring success to the organization and workers in terms of productivity, efficiency and health. It makes a statement about the company’s stance on the importance of their workers. This is our philosophy and practice.
How do you envision the future in terms of work conditions?
I would want to see everyone working in an environment that supports their health and well-being. Ergonomically the work environment should be completely flexible in terms of workers’ height and needs considering their daily tasks and adjustable in less than 10 minutes. Ideally, we envision everyone having an electric stand sit desk with an ergonomic chair that provides support and is not simply purchased based on looks. The environment should support all the factors that enhance the workers wellbeing and efficient completion of their tasks. People should leave work healthy and comfortable as opposed to exhausted and depressed and have enough energy for the rest of their day.
People who enjoy their work accomplish more, and naturally that’s a big plus for the employers. On a scale of 1-10, I would put investing in ergonomics and a good working environment at 11. It shows an increased return on investment (ROI), decreased injuries and increased overall positive attitude in the work environment.
Tell us about Kare Products office design
Every desk is an electric adjustable sit to stand desk as we have workers ranging from 5′ to 6′. Because of the height range and adjustability, everyone can use each other’s desk depending on the assignments. We use a stand up conference table for our morning meetings. We set it to a stand mode because we found it keeps everybody alert and sharp and the meetings go faster. Interestingly neurologists explain when a person is lying down, thinking is slower and they access what is termed as the reptilian brain (basic mode). When sitting, people use a different part of the brain, more task oriented. Standing accesses a part of the brain where people can tap into another level of more inspired thinking, creativity, and a wider variety of solutions.
Kare Products adopted a semi open office plan where everyone has their individual area. That design gives privacy and quiet when focused on a task, but permits easy communication for quick questions or more in depth discussion. We can hear what the other person is saying in case we have critical info they may need. This supports a teamwork work atmosphere. From time to time, we change up the art and layout design to encourage new thinking that happens with change in your environment.
Every desk has a wireless headset for stress free quick response, and document holders to avoid forward head tilt when looking at paperwork and the monitor height is adjustable. We stage our equipment so people have to walk to the printer and to access other needed tools. This encourages movement, breaking up static muscle load and a chance to mingle and interact. We provide filtered water and herbal teas as opposed to heavy sugar sodas and instant coffees. We run an air filter to help people with their allergies and keep the environment clean and fresh.
Lights wise – we use some full spectrum lights but the office has windows all around, which brings in a lot of natural light. We invested in windows in the warehouse which has increased workers’ satisfaction. Other warehouse tools include a sit stand desk and anti fatigue mats to support circulation and cut down on fatigue when standing. We have also decreased the warehouse noise by partially carpeting the area.
What would you improve in your own office?
Now that we have incredibly sophisticated body friendly furniture and ergonomic tools, the goal is to make sure we remember to use them properly-for example, change the height of the desk when we’re at a different workstation to get into a neutral posture. We need to change our muscle memory and posture habits to fully benefit from the equipment. It becomes each employee’s responsibility to become aware. Kindly reminding each other if we’re slumping or sitting awkwardly could go a long ways toward helping each other make changes. By learning shortcut keys for every computer program we use, the team would be more productive and minimize using the mouse. I think we could all benefit from blinking and looking away from the monitor screen every 30 minutes to focus on a distant object to bring relief and moisture to our eyes.
What can you say about Google’s office work environment?
Google invests in team sharing and communication in a very extraordinary way. They promote group activity and create fun places for team sharing, privacy and interaction that inspires creativity and team work. Having fun at work helps that a lot.
Google created a fun environment and I know they invest a lot in ergonomics. In my opinion they took it a bit too much towards form over function. The environment there brings out the playful and you stay alert and creative but it seems that people often sit in workstations that don’t fit their body size. More thought could have been put into the desks height (non adjustable), work flow and sit design. The great designers always say form follows function – that is the right way of doing things.
Craig Stewart is VP and co-owner of Kare Products since 1983. Craig brings analytical skills to Kare Products systems, manufacturing, workspace ergonomics and design. He has grown the company from bootstrap to a national market.