April 19, 2013

Werner Braun: Ergonomics: The benefits of carpet

“Carpet really is more comfortable than hard floors.”

That’s a common refrain often overheard by sales associates who staff the booths at annual flooring trade shows. To these carpet professionals, it seems as if the attendees have had something of an epiphany when they give voice to this statement.

It’s befuddling. That’s because this type of an “a-ha” moment seems to be infuriatingly obvious to even the most casual observer. Professionals in the carpet industry see this statement as the ultimate “no-brainer.”

Carpeted floors do “feel better.” But they not only feel better, they also result in fewer feet and joint injuries in the workplace.

This comes to mind after reading a report compiled by Ingvar Demker on the “Determination of Mechanical Comfort Properties of Floor Coverings” that was published by the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

Demker’s report was initiated after the Swedish Work Environment Authority (SWEA) actually condemned an elderly care facility about a decade ago after coming to the conclusion that the “ergonomic problems many employees had experienced were due to the floorcovering in the building.”

Apparently, many of the employees were complaining of pain in their feet, knees, hip joints and lower spine.

So a study was initiated to gather information on the mechanical and comfort properties of different floorcoverings, and the report took a pretty hard look at how much value traditional floorcovering materials have regarding shock absorption.

The results showed that most of the floorcoverings in public areas in Sweden today have very little springiness, a quality which can help prevent shock injuries to joints and bones.

I guess it’s no coincidence that Sweden uses hard surfaces in most of its commercial and public areas, unlike the U.S., where carpeted workplaces and public spaces are commonplace.

The study concluded, and I quote, that “the SWEA believes that the best way to minimize risk of strain injuries is to replace current floorcovering with softer floorcovering.”

Demker also concluded that: “The clinical study at Skottsundsbacken and Lindgarden ... shows that changing to a softer floorcovering results in a significant reduction of pain in feet.”

This is not rocket science, people.

Carpeted floors have the decided advantage of providing a softer environment for people to walk on, whether they are at work, in school, at the shopping mall or at home.

In all of these scenarios, individuals are less likely to feel the strain of being on a hard surface floor where there’s nothing to cushion the blows and jolts that can occur from even just walking around.

Carpet in the workplace creates a quieter environment; it also creates a more serene setting, reducing irritating and disrupting background noise. In fact, it’s been shown that in uncarpeted classrooms, students tend to miss as many as one in five words because of the reverberation of sound on hard surface floors.

Having carpeted surfaces in our schools helps improve the acoustics in the classroom, making teaching and learning a more effective process.

Carpeted floors in the home are also beneficial. Full-time moms and dads who spend long hours on their feet taking care of the home and chasing after their children benefit from the comfort of softer flooring.

In the carpet industry, we so often become defensive when our product gets criticized for contributing to allergic or asthmatic reactions (wrong) or to contributing to poor indoor air quality (wrong again).

We often become so defensive that we neglect to celebrate the true benefits of carpet. Those include providing a more comfortable working space, better acoustics and fewer stress injuries. Not to mention the aesthetic beauty of most carpeted floors.

One very successful advertising campaign that was launched a number of years ago claimed “Carpet — it just feels better.”

It not only feels better, it also lessens the impact that hard surface flooring has on the body that often results in pain and injury. It translates into less fatigue, and less pain from sore feet, sore joints and sore backs.

And that’s worth crowing about.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.


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