30 October 2012

In sickness and in health

In my teens I took part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme (if you’re reading this and are either under 25, or have kids who are, it’s brilliant and I highly recommend it!). Part of the challenge was the expedition phase, which for me consisted of three days moving through the Peak District on foot carrying full kit. About 20 minutes into the trip (having agreed to carry extra kit for others who were struggling) my knee made a funny noise. I went on to finish the expedition unaided, and then got to spend the next two weeks on crutches.

What, you might well ask, does this have to do with technical authoring? Well, it matters quite a lot because if I’m the kind of person who keeps trekking when every step hurts and I heard – and felt – the snap-crackle-pop coming from my knee (that’s right folks, my body does breakfast cereal sound effects), then in other less painful circumstances I may not notice something’s wrong till it’s too late.

As technical communicators, we sit at a desk for a large portion of our working life. How bad can it be? My knees are not as important for work, but other joints can be essential; elbows, wrists, and fingers do the work, and it’d be a mistake to think that spending your entire life on a too-tall desk with a plank-like keyboard isn’t going to slow you down. You need to go ergonomic (it’s also why professional athletes don’t run in clogs - their feet are what do the business and they know it). That being said, I feel that an overly ergonomic solution wouldn’t work for me, as I often have to work on a computer that isn’t my own and wouldn’t like to lose the muscle memory for touch typing.

The other “joints” are the ones in your spine, and you need to find a chair that works for you. I can think of only one scenario in which an employer choosing a chair for an employee is the best solution, and even then I’d probably want to bring my own cushion. Let’s be clear: your chair, keyboard and desk layout should, as much as possible, be chosen by you. They’re your “running shoes”, and “suit of armour”, and they need to fit your body. It’s why I’ve got different (and cheaper) equipment to that in Alison’s work-space, because it fits me and means I can work better for longer in more comfort.

I realise that in working with family, I have certain advantages, in that Alison actually cares about my health, rather than just the work I bring in, but if you need to parley with your employer, try using phrases like “increased productivity”, “less time off sick” and the best of the bunch “cheaper to buy a £50 keyboard now, than pay my carpel tunnel syndrome lawsuit a decade from now”! Your boss, together with your spine, will magically become flexible again.



  1. Brilliant stuff...absolutely loved the lawsuit bit, will try that with my employer ;)

  2. Long time no Blog, what's up Mate?


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