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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Ergonomics Center research to create improved office spaces at A&M

Prag+Sharma%2C+Doctoral+Student%2C+demonstrates+use+of+a+standing+desk+which+is+being+used+as+part+of+his+research+into+ergonomics.
Photo by Photo by Kevin Chou

Prag Sharma, Doctoral Student, demonstrates use of a standing desk which is being used as part of his research into ergonomics.

A&M researchers have partnered with the division of Student Affairs to improve the quality of work environments and enable a healthier lifestyle.
The Ergonomics Center in the School of Public Health are working to answer whether humans can stay healthy and productive despite the sedentary nature of the modern office space. Researchers are collaborating with the department of student activities to provide feedback on ergonomic equipment such as standing desks, specially designed chairs and more.
Mark Benden, director of the Ergonomics Center and head of environmental and occupational health, said this research is focused to reduce worker fatigue to enable people to focus and think better. He said an active lifestyle promotes physiological health, allows for happy employees and reduces the likelihood of developing diseases such as cancer, Type-II diabetes and cardiovascular ailments.
“We want people to sit less [and] move more,” Benden Said. “We want activity, we want change. We know if you don’t do these things it affects your life expectancy.”
Daniel Pugh, vice-president of Student Affairs, said there are on-going initiatives and investment to improve the quality and work experience of the staff. Pugh reached out to the Ergonomics Center and Benden to know more about the subject, and ultimately the decision was taken to purchase the standing desks.
One of President Young’s priorities has been on enhancing the quality of the work environment for our staff,” Pugh said. “We did a walk through of the Ergonomics Center/lab with Dr. Benden and took a look at number of different pieces fixtures and we were amazed at the things that we were learning.
Cynthia Hernandez, associate vice-president of Student Affairs, worked with the research team on the setting the hypothesis, plans and institutional review board approvals. She said the first attempt focussed on using wearable technology to gather health data. However, due to poor reception from the staff the method was re-designed to focus on collecting data from the desk itself.
“We went back to the drawing board and re-evaluated,” Hernandez said. “The methodology now is more about gathering more of the data from the desk themselves, so we think the staff are going to be more receptive.”
Parag Sharma, doctoral student in the School of Public Health, is working on the project as part of his thesis. He hopes to use friendly competition by “gamifying” the office allowing people to motivate each other. He said the long term goal was to identify sustainable behavior for well being in the workplace.
“We are going to have people compete against each other, just a friendly competition to see who can be up and going more,” Sharma said. “Each desk has a gadget on it to determine the position and would work with software on the computer and provide feedback to people.”
Pugh said avenues continue to be explored for investing in the staff such as providing rec-memberships and collaborating with research partners in areas like diversity education. He said the intention was not to be invasive but to understand the benefits of the investment.
“Many of our programs and initiatives are potential laboratories, that are not different not dissimilar from what is happening at Fortune 500 or non-profits,” Pugh said. “Extending our departments and programs as possible research/laboratory areas could generate external grants or support that might advance our standing as a research university.”
Benden extolled the virtues of using the campus as a laboratory. He said it is a smart vision which utilizes the potential in the thousands of students and staff to get involved and participate in research.
“Why not use folks who want to participate, who want to get involved in research as participants,” Benden Said. “It helps our faculty and staff and students on campus to get acquainted with some of the cutting edge research our faculty is performing, this way they can experience it.”

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