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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, March 12, 2001

And if all else
fails, just quit

THE U.S. Senate has repealed rules requiring employers to come up with ways to prevent workplace injuries, which will save thousands of office workers the indignity of typing at Nerf desks while wearing a crash helmet, X-ray glasses, arm braces and having a fluffy pillow strapped to their butts.

The workplace injury rules were another one of those cost-doesn't-matter, Washington feel-good remedies to a problem that can easily be solved by common sense. (Which reminds me that it's been a while since I've lobbied for a Cabinet-level post for a U.S. Department of Common Sense, through which every idea, both hare- and non-hare-brained, must pass before becoming law.)

The workplace injury rules were mainly to protect white-collar office workers because they constitute an important constituency: whiners who vote. Blue collar workers whine, too, but because they don't vote as regularly, they don't have Congressmen ready to massage their shoulders when they get a neck cramp. Imagine one of those high-rise steel workers complaining to his boss that his wrist hurts. (Hey, boss, I think I caught that disease, Carnal Tunnel Syndrome.)

Office workers suffer repetitive stress injuries, which is just a fancy way of saying they aren't sitting correctly and taking enough breaks. You don't need the federal government to tell you that when your butt falls asleep, it's probably time to get up and walk around a bit. If your boss doesn't let you, you threaten to sue him for Carpal Buttoosky Syndrome.

MY theory is that the reason there are so many injuries and discomfort for people who put in a lot of desk time, is because we've been told over the years to sacrifice utility for appearance. In the office, I'm known to type while my feet are on the desk, leaning back in my chair with my keyboard in my lap. It looks sloppy and non-professional. But it is the perfect posture for typing. I'm not face to face with a video monitor. My legs, back and butt are supported. My forearms are resting comfortably on arm rests, taking all the stress off my wrists.

If you were going to design a perfect chair for computer users, it would look more like a dentist's chair than the torture devices in most offices.

The "proper" way to sit at a desk has been hard-wired into us, in the same way we were taught to read to ourselves without moving our lips, depriving many of us of the opportunity to become highly-paid TV news anchors.

I just got a new computer that came with a diagram showing how to sit while using it. (Thank goodness. I might have tried typing with my back to the machine.) The diagram shows a woman sitting bolt-upright in a chair with no arm rests and feet flat on the floor. This is the official posture ingrained in office workers going back to all-women typing pools. When the male managers walked through the room, they wanted to see all of their sexylittletyping soldiers lined up, backs arched, fingers flying like the goodfembots they were supposed to be.

According to the diagram, your face is supposed to be 18 to 28 inches from the screen. Eighteen inches? I've grilled steaks further away from a fire! When you put your legs up and lean back, your face is at least 3 feet from the screen, which is a lot easier on the eyes and you don't get a radiation tan.

Now that the federal workplace injury mandate has been scrapped, office managers should concentrate on function over form. An inter-office masseuse is optional.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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