Recently I met with a client who is experiencing pain in her hands, arms and shoulders. In fact, she’s in so much pain that she started resting her forearms on a blanket she puts in front of her keyboard because she says it makes her arms feel better.
This woman is 28 years old. I explained to her that if she kept typing while leaning on her forearms, resting her wrists on the desk and perching on the edge of her chair, she might end up where I did 10 years ago—unable to type certainly, but also unable to grasp a fork or mug handle or do simple things like peel an onion without excruciating pain.
Before I met with her, this client had already had a workstation assessment from an expert (with 19 letters after his name) and it turned out to be a 20-minute tick box exercise, ensuring her employer met the minimum legal requirement.
She’d read the report from her previous assessment, but as it didn’t mention anything about her use of a blanket, she continued to rely on this behaviour because it gave her some temporary relief.
Her previous assessor didn’t know she did this because he hadn’t asked and he never watched her work.
It’s not the client’s responsibility to tell the assessor what they are doing wrong—because how do they know? As assessors, it’s our responsibility to find out what’s going on with the client; what behaviours, postures and techniques are they using to avoid pain and are they making their own situation worse by doing so?
I gave this client many suggestions, starting with getting her to sit all the way back in her chair so that she can feel the back rest against her shoulder blades. We brought her keyboard much closer to her, along with her mouse. We also discussed her typing technique. I showed her how to type keeping her wrists straight, and suggested she use fewer fingers to type until she got her pain under control.
There is no tick box for blankets on a standard workstation assessment. It’s up to the assessor to find out how the client is really using their workstation (and all of their devices) and why.