Doing your work comfortably and in a way that does not adversely affect your body is what ergonomics is all about. Numerous issues could be covered, but I will speak only to those that have the greatest effect on a drapery workroom in general, whether it employs one person or 350.
Just for the record, there are some terms that you should understand. Cumulative Trauma Disorders, or CTDs, are when you develop health problems over time by doing the same procedures. This is common in factory situations in which an operator does the same job all day long. Repetitive Motion Disorders, or RMDs, come from performing a repetitive job in a harmful way. Therefore, RMDs are the results of CTDs.
An ergonomist is someone who visits job sites to evaluate the jobs and to determine the most ergonomical methods of performing them.
1. Maintain good posture at all times.
2. Do not do the same procedure for long periods of time without rest. Many of you specialize in a specific product such as pillows or slipcovers and this is all you do. If you must do the same procedure for a long period of time, stop and take brief rest periods of even five minutes to give your body time to recover. This can put off or avoid CTDs.
3. Standing or sitting for long periods of time is bad for your body. Alternate these conditions. For those of you who are using iron-on products for a large percentage of the time and are pressing at the worktable for long periods, take a break and do something that allows you to sit for a while—or just go sit down for a few minutes. Also, have empty space on a shelf under the table or a stool beside you so occasionally you can put a foot up to rest that leg and your back. Alternate feet.
4. A concrete floor is very hard on your legs. A wooden floor is better, but indoor/outdoor carpeting with padding is best for the whole workroom. If you must stand for long periods, invest in the special industrial matting that helps relieve fatigue. Just put it on the floor where you stand.
5. Have good lighting so you can see what you are doing and maintain good posture. In fact, be sure you have regular eye exams. If you can't see, you are likely to bend over more, causing damage to your back, neck and shoulders.
6. If you must stand for very long periods, perhaps all day, try using a back support that can be worn under your clothes. This type of support has very wide elastic in the back that narrows in the front where it overlaps and closes with Velcro. You can probably find one at a medical supplies store or in a mail order catalog.
7. Shorten the time you must do work that requires a strong grip with your hands and arms. It is a common and necessary practice to grip the fabric in front of and behind the needle to run fabric through a straight stitch sewing machine and serger. You can get a puller to attach permanently behind the needle so you don't have to do this. It is definitely a wonderful advantage on the serger, but if you have only one straight stitch machine, it would interfere with many of the procedures you do with various feet.
8. If you use the rotary knives that require a mat, be sure the table surface is lower than usual so you can put more full-body strength into cutting. Because of the extra strength it requires in the arms and in the hands to grip of the knife, and because it requires you to bend your back to help relieve your arm and hand, try doing this procedure for only short periods of time.
9. The repetitive motion of scissors is very hard on the hands and can lead to RMDs such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Try to learn to stack layers of fabric and cut with an electric rotary knife (available from Workroom Concepts, (877) 304-4939, www.workroomconcepts.com). This knife should also be considered a substitute, when possible, for the hand rotary knife mentioned above.
10.Reduce wrist motion as much as possible. In other words, keep your wrist as straight as possible for whatever you are doing. The healthiest position for your hands is vertical with thumbs up and little fingers down or with your palms flat down. However, twisting them back and forth between these two positions for long periods is not good.
11. Avoid reaching behind you, above your shoulders or beyond your arm's length for long periods.
12. To determine the correct table height, whether it is your work table or machine table, have your elbows at your side and raise your forearms straight out at a 90-degree angle with your palms vertical. Your little finger should ideally rest on the table surface or come within two to four inches from it. If you have employees, make tables adjustable, or adjust all tables to the tallest person. Then give the shorter workers stools to stand on or raise their chairs at the machines.
13. You should have a good, adjustable chair for each machine. The chair back should hit the small, concave part of your back. The seat should be raised to a level where your knees are at a 90-degree angle to the floor. The front of the chair, as well as the front of your machine table, should be rounded. Resting your arms or the backs of your knees on a sharp edge could cause damage. Your chairs also should have five legs for better support. If you have a slick floor, remove the wheels from the chair or your chair will roll away from the machine as you are sewing. The wheels on a chair are really very handy and helpful, so carpeting the floor will eliminate undesirable rolling about. The drawing on page 84 better explains the positioning.
14. When sitting at a machine, your feet should be at the same level, either both on the floor or both on the pedal. If you can't put both feet on the pedal, then have a footrest to raise the other foot to the same level.
The best thing about a small workroom is that almost everyone has to do several different jobs, and because of health issues, cross training can be very advantageous. If you want to stay healthy, reduce sick days (whether yours or your employees'), not have to use your workman's comp insurance and keep doing what you are doing for a long time to come, then concentrate on and invest in an ergonomic environment!
Note from Kitty: I would personally like to thank Ethel Mahon for filling in for me in my recent absence. I think she did a great job, and I've heard some wonderful comments about her articles. I encourage her to contribute more articles. It would be so nice to have more workroom information in D&WC. If you liked her articles, let her know. If you want more from her, let the editor know.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, previous articles or any topic of interest to workrooms, please contact me at:
Draperies & Window Coverings
666 Dundee Rd., Ste. 807
Northbrook, IL 60062-2769
Fax: (847) 498-0231
Web site: www.workroomconcepts.com
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings and Price Your Work With Confidence.