Sit up straight!

Proposed regulations aimed at reducing aches and pains caused by poorly designed working environments could be a real headache for federal information technology managers whose employees spend hours at a time hunched over their computers.

Under the regulations proposed last month by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers with workers involved in manual handling or manufacturing production jobs would need to design a basic ergonomics program to find ways to reduce the physical stress of their jobs.

But for ErgoManager, a software package from Magnitude Information Systems Inc., technology is not the problem but the solution. ErgoManager helps users assess the ergonomics design of their workstations and provides a tool for pacing and analyzing their work as well as tracking their work habits.

The software is a suite of applications that can be installed either on a network server or on individual workstations.

The first application in the suite is called ErgoSure. It helps determine if a user's current work environment requires an alteration to prevent injuries. ErgoSure's analysis is based on the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) standard, an international standard that identifies posture and muscle activities that have been shown to contribute to repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

ErgoSure supplies an array of photographs of a person sitting at a computer in different postures. Users view the pictures and select the ones that best represent how they work at their computers. The software then evaluates the user's posture and recommends changes if needed. ErgoSure also will allow an office administrator to track postures for groups of employees, data that can be used to spot ergonomics problems or trends within entire departments.

ErgoSentry monitors measures keyboard and mouse activity. The software reminds users at predefined intervals that they should do some exercises - such as stretching - to stay within the RULA standard.

But getting used to ErgoSentry is difficult. It really does monitor work habits and always seems to pop up at inopportune times during your work or concentration cycle. However, the product is designed to do exactly that, to ensure a worker is interrupted before injury occurs.

An administrator can set ErgoSentry to be less invasive, but this may hamper the overall benefit of the product.

ErgoManager is available on the General Services Administration's schedule for $112. Contact Magnitude Information Systems at (908) 534-6400 or visit its World Wide Web site, www.magnitude.com.

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