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Computer Program That Looks After Your Back

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A British software house has pioneered an interactive program that helps protect computer users from back-pain, repetitive stress injury (RSI) and other occupational hazards.

PostureMinder is the brainchild of computer vision scientist Dr Philip Worthington, who realised the need from his own experience.

"When I went to work for a new company, I had my display screen equipment (DSE) training and thought, 'I know how to sit.'A few weeks later I came down with a bad back. I may now how I should sit, but I never do it."

His initial idea was for a random pop-up, but he realised that a targeted message that appeared when it was needed would have more impact. The system is very simple, but uses some clever visual analysis techniques with a USB camera pointing at the computer user to identify when significant posture changes take place. PostureMinder stores a reference picture of the computer user's normal posture and then continually checks to see if the person starts to slump or lean.

At that point, the program issues an alert to straighten up, and just as importantly reminds them to take regular breaks. A separate Hydration tracker encourages the user to keep a log of the liquids they drink.

The developer explained that the benefits of the program are not just for individual users. "By reducing the time spent in damaging postures, and reinforcing good posture and healthy working habits, PostureMinder helps computer workers to protect their health, and saves companies money through reduced absences and improved productivity."

A recent study from ViewSonic Europe found that over 70% of UK computer workers suffer in silence from back, neck and shoulder pain, eye fatigue and headaches and almost as many would be prepared to seek compensation from their employer if they developed a work-related health issue.

"For all the investment that companies make in training and expensive ergonomic furniture, users revert to poor postures and bad habits the moment their training is finished. PostureMinder provides peace of mind to employers who want to demonstrate that they are doing everything in their power to protect their staff," Worthington says.

Single copies of PostureMinder cost £59.99 (and you may need to buy a USB web cam costing around £25 to run it with). Bulk prices are available for organisations that wish to deploy it more widely. See the PostureMinder website for more details, including some useful ergonomic advice about working with computers.

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