Ergonomics program focuses on worker safety and comfort

by Chanel S. Weaver
U.S. Army Public Health Command

Whether it’s staying in a marriage, living in the same community or raising a child, when people stick with something year after year, they demonstrate they are in it for the long haul. They learn to take the good with the bad.

That’s why David Alberth, a radiation safety expert at the U.S. Army Public Health Command, kept working for the Army for nearly 40 years. Although his office chair was uncomfortable, his computer screen was getting harder to see, and the space in his office was getting increasingly narrower, he hung in there because that’s what he felt devoted employees do.

“I knew the work I was doing to keep our military safe from the harmful effects of radiation was important,” said Alberth, a senior health physicist. “I enjoy using my institutional memory and knowledge of historical examples to solve current problems.”

Alberth kept files in his office that covered more than 20 years of history. He was so efficient at what he did that employees at the USAPHC, as well as Army and DOD scientists, often consulted him on radiation issues. He was recognized as a master consultant on radiation issues a few years ago.

But recently, his co-workers and supervisor began to notice a problem.

“David had a huge collection of files, and his office space was so constrained that he could barely move around,” said Lt. Col. Constance Rosser, a program manager in the USAPHC health physics program.

Mobility was getting more difficult for Alberth, who suffers from arthritis and other orthopedic problems from his activities as a long–distance runner in earlier years.
With a few phone calls, even more paperwork and a lot of heavy lifting, Alberth’s co-workers voluntarily reconfigured his office. The office’s reconfiguration and design was completed under the professional direction of USAPHC’s Ergonomics Program members.

Today, Alberth’s new workspace boasts state-of-the-art amenities including an adjustable keyboard, an oversized monitor, a workstation that allows him to stand at intervals and, of course, plenty of space for him to maneuver around effortlessly.
John Pentikis, an ergonomist, said the program is in high demand for office reconfigurations from customers throughout the federal workforce, completing an average of two a month.

“The teams identify risk factors in an office and come up with solutions to mitigate those factors,” said Pentikis.

The make-up of these office reconfiguration teams varies, but they often include ergonomists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and engineers. A key goal of the program is injury reduction.

“We want to prevent injuries to our workforce,” Pentikis said. “Research shows that virtually all musculoskeletal injuries can be prevented.”

The goal is also to ensure employees can perform their jobs safely and comfortably, said Col. Myrna Callison, Ergonomics Program manager.

The ergonomics team frequently travels both stateside and abroad to assess employee working conditions and offer interventions to decrease injury risk.
“We frequently perform ergonomic studies on offices, warehouses, hospitals and other places where federal employees work,” Callison said.

Recently, the Ergonomics Program was instrumental in the development of a safe-patient handling program that uses ergonomically sound equipment to help hospital staff lift patients in ways that do not cause injuries. The program is being tested in the Madigan (Joint Base Lewis–McChord, Wash.) health care system with an ultimate goal of being implemented in various Army medical treatment facilities.
Alberth said he is grateful that the USAPHC ergonomics team and his co-workers took action to preserve his safety and health.

“The renovation made me realize that there are many USAPHC personnel who care about my welfare,” Alberth said.

Pentikis said it was a pleasure to serve.

“I like what I do because I have an opportunity to interact with other people … and help them work in an environment that suits them,” Pentikis said. “It doesn’t benefit an agency to have an employee who is uncomfortable and at risk of injury.”
Rosser agreed.

“Mr. Alberth has spent the majority of his career assessing and mitigating the health risks of radiation to secure the safety of our military personnel in both deployed and garrison locations,” Rosser said. “The steps we took to ensure he could perform his job easier were just a token of our gratitude for his service. It is our duty to ensure that all employees have reasonable accommodations.”

For details on the program, visit the U.S. Army Public Health Command online at