Since the pandemic pushed desk workers out of the office and into their homes, ergonomic consultant Craig Chasen has seen clients work in uncomfortable stations from hunching over an ironing board to spending long days sitting on hard dining chairs. He hopes he can prevent pain and discomfort for Longmont workers.
Chasen’s company The Chasen Group has consulted companies including Medtronic plc and Oracle Corp. for 20 years, mostly in the Boulder and Denver area. Since Chasen moved to Longmont about four years ago, he’s refocusing his business on clients in the city.
Though The Chasen Group was founded in 2002, Chasen started working with ergonomics in 1993. At the time, he was a safety manager for a Boulder tech company and noticed more employees were developing health issues from work. Some common cases Chasen sees are carpal tunnel syndrome, stiff necks and shoulders and other painful upper body and extremity issues.
“We didn't know anything about ergonomics, so I tried to learn and they told me at the time, you know, put a foam book under your monitor and put this little rubber pad in front of your keyboard. And I said ‘Hey, you don't understand my issue because I've got people going to the hospital three times a week. They're costing $25,000 for their medical attention, you know, through the workers comp program and they're losing a lot of productivity,’” Chasen said. “So they had me look into what these issues were and I learned that they were called ergonomic discomfort, and from there, I decided to educate myself on what this was.”
Since then, Chasen has consulted on 11,000 ergonomic evaluations and published a book, “Safety Manager’s Guide to Office Ergonomics.”
In 2011, Chasen sold his company after one of his biggest clients, Oracle America, asked him to join full time as its Ergonomics Program Manager. After eight years, he returned to his private consulting practice not long before the pandemic changed the way he and his clients worked.
Prior to the pandemic, the Chasen Group typically worked directly with businesses and their safety managers. Chasen would visit offices for evaluations, suggesting products, furniture and position adjustments to improve ergonomics.
Though Chasen always offered virtual assessments as some of his clients hired employees out of state or overseas, the pandemic made it the main method for The Chasen Group. Clients send photos of them working at their work station with measurements.
Now he receives inquiries for home offices more. Though he still works primarily with businesses to help their employees, he hopes individuals will seek him out on their own for evaluations. Chasen has his remote evaluations at half the cost of onsite at $100 an hour.
“The pandemic has restricted my business by about 80%, but it has allowed me to spend more time on home offices, which I just enjoy so much that I'm hoping I can recover from the pandemic by being the guy for home office ergonomics in Longmont,” Chasen said.
When it comes to office setups, adjustability is key, Chasen said. With humans coming in all sorts of heights, one-size-fits-all furniture really isn’t. Chasen said an industry standard for desk heights is about 29 inches, but that measurement best suits someone who is around 6’ tall.
Because of this, Chasen recommends finding furniture that can be adjusted. Though Chasen doesn’t sell furniture directly to customers to maintain neutrality, he recommends products that go into an office set up including chairs, monitor risers, keyboards, and keyboard trays. The items he recommends are ones that he’s seen success with over the last 20 years of business.
Dining tables also typically fall along common desk heights ranging from 28-30 inches. Workers using their dining set is one of the common work-from-home cases, Chasen has seen. He also sees workers using their laptops on their kitchen counters and bending their neck down to look at their screens. He added that prolonged use of laptops aren’t ideal because it’s impossible to have both the keyboard and monitor in an ergonomic position. Laptop users should invest in external keyboards and mouses, Chasen said.
“The pandemic allowed me to see people in their home offices more,” Chasen said. “Home offices are comical in what people try to do to create a workstation on the fly. When the pandemic started, nobody knew how long you were going to be working from home. They were sent home and they took their keyboard and monitor from work and they tried to figure out what they were going to do. Well, that worked okay for about, I'd say six months, that put us into late 2020. But after they worked in a poorly configured office for more than about nine months, and they saw that they could be continuing, they all said, ‘Hey, I can't continue like this.’”
When evaluating a work station, Chasen looks for three key measurements: The “popliteal height” or height of the chair from the floor, the height of the desk and the distance from the floor to the worker’s elbow when they are in typing position.
For the popliteal height measurement, Chasen looks at if the person’s knees are higher or lower than their hips. He said he aims for a 102 degree angle with the knees slightly lower than the hips to reduce strain on the hamstrings.
The desk height is one of the most crucial measurements, he said, because it determines where the wrists sit at the desk.
The elbow should be level with the wrists. This means the arms and shoulders are relaxed. The top cause of upper extremity discomfort from desk work is when the wrists are higher than the elbow, Chasen said.
Chasen doesn’t see remote work going away any time soon, and hopes The Chasen Group can help prevent visits to a physician. Makeshift workstations before the pandemic could work in a pinch, but when it’s for long work days for an extended period of time, that’s when discomfort can lead to serious injuries, Chasen said.
“As common as it is, people don't realize that there's a remedy and, and I really come between the onset of discomfort and seeking medical attention because I bring interventions in that will really erase the discomfort issues,” Chasen said.