Office workers are at high risk of experiencing musculoskeletal, or soft-tissue, disorders from repeated motion and awkward positions, such as sitting for long hours in front of a computer. Previous research has shown that safe and efficient, or ergonomic, office equipment can help reduce the risk, but obtaining the right equipment sometimes can be challenging.

In a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-funded study at Ohio University, researchers used a tool called value-stream mapping to collect information about finding and purchasing, or procuring, ergonomic computer workstations by depicting the process from beginning to end. They first surveyed 548 office workers at a large university about work-related muscle pain associated with computer workstations, including mouse controllers, keyboards, and adjustable chairs, and their satisfaction with the equipment’s procurement. The workers’ average age was 45, almost two-thirds were female, and most reported that they experienced pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. Using the survey results, the researchers created value-stream maps of the procurement process for the computer workstations. Next, they asked 331 workers for details about how they procured the equipment and then revised the value-stream maps based on these responses.

The value-stream maps helped the researchers collect and display information that improved the procurement process, according to the study published in the journal Professional Safetyexternal icon. In other findings, workers expressed much greater satisfaction when their departments consulted an expert in ergonomics before buying new computer workstations. These results highlight that value-stream maps can help companies find and purchase effective ergonomic equipment to help prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

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