Ergonomics for Translators

Study of arms and hands by Leonardo da Vinci

      Anyone who spends a great deal of time seated at a desk needs to consider the importance of ergonomics when organizing his work environment or setting his work schedule.  Ergonomics is a subject that most translators ignore until they have a major back problem or suffer carpal tunnel syndrome, but designing an efficient workspace and developing a few good habits can increase the productivity and lessen one’s probability of suffering chronic health problems related to sedentary work routines and long hours tapping away at a keyboard.

      The height of one’s desk and chair is crucial in creating an ergonomically-correct workspace, as is the choice of adequate lighting, good ventilation, and a well-placed filing system. Frequently used reference materials should be organized within reach and all unnecessary clutter should be banished from sight.

      Natalie Houston recently wrote an interesting article about ergonomics for The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Prof Hacker” column, in which she emphasized that the “QWERTY” keyboard that we all work with was not designed specifically for computer work but rather to avoid key jams in standard typewriters. For the translators, editors, and bloggers who spend a lot of time communicating and posting via their Blackberries and other small mobile devices, data entry can become as hazardous to fingers and wrists as practicing an extreme sport. It’s wise advice to balance the modern necessity to work around the clock and answer every text message on the spot with long-term health considerations. Instead of spending a fortune updating a mobile device, it might make more sense to invest in an ergonomically-designed stationary keyboard.

      Whatever equipment they own, the biggest challenge for all office-based workaholics is adopting the habit of taking small breaks from their deskwork. Some translators rely on their dogs to tell them when enough is enough and others program periodic reminders to get up from their desks into their electronic calendars.  A small break every hour is enough to keep the body supple and relaxed. A simple change of posture complemented with a few stretching techniques, especially exercises for the neck, arms, wrists, and hands,  can offset the physical and mental stress of long hours at the keyboard.  Doing hand flexes with a small rubber ball that fits comfortably in your hand while you proof a document or read messages will keep your fingers supple and offset work-related stress.

      If you are interested in learning a few easy exercises to alleviate computer-related aches and pains, Natalie Houston’s advice to her fellow “Prof Hackers” is a good place to start.  The Mayo Clinic also offers excellent online advice with easy, well-illustrated stretching exercises for tired necks, wrists, and hands.