Volume 16, No. 4
October 2012

  Françoise Herrmann

Front Page


Index 1997-2012

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
How I Tripled My Translation Business in One Year
by Ilse Wong

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
The Most Prized Possession of All
by Jost Zetzsche

  Translators Around the World
The Booming Localization Industry in the People’s Republic of China
by Chuanmao Tian

  Translators' Health
Using OSHA Guidelines for Ourselves
by Françoise Herrmann, PhD

  Legal Translation
Derecho continental y derecho anglosajón: la terminología y la fraseología propia del ámbito sucesorio
by Esther Vázquez y del Árbol
The Brazilian Supreme Court Comes to the Rescue of Translators!
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Literary Translation
La palingénésie de Marco Micone : écriture, traduction et auto-traduction comme remèdes littéraires à l’invisibilité du migrant
by Cecilia Foglia

Cultural Aspects of Translation
Who’s Listening/Reading?
by by Philip Macdonald
Translation of Cultural Items in Dubbed Animated Comedies
by by Paulina Burczynska

Advertising Translation
Advertising in Translation: “Nivea Beauty Is” Campaign Against “Belleza Es, Facetas”
by Soledad Sta. María

Translation Theory
The Illusion of Transparency
by Daniel Valles

Translator Education
A Foray into Student-Centered Learning (SCL): Two SCL Activities Designed to Enhance Translation Pedagogy
by Lorin Card, PhD

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

  Translation Journal
Translators' Health

Translator Health

Using OSHA Guidelines for Ourselves

by Françoise Herrmann, PhD

Job Safety

Consider some of the most dangerous jobs on earth such as clearing land mines, excavating ore in the depths of the earth and sea, cleaning up radioactive waste, or defending our country in the 50-degrees Celsius heat of Bagdad or under fire in the streets of Kabul, and translation probably rates as quite safe. With the one important exception of those translators embedded in theaters of global conflict, translation is mostly, a rather "cushy" job.

Depending on the length and urgency of the project, translators typically spend 8 to 10 hours a day in front their computer terminals, probably experiencing what Paul Ricoeur terms the "joy of translation" (Ricoeur, 2004), and no doubt looking much like typists although ignoring this particular, and crucial, difference invokes serious danger of a more stealthy stroke.

Early Intervention for Our Ancestors-in-Practice

There is good reason to use the OSHA guidelines for ourselves, to mind our bodies, and to protect the joy of translation.
Some two thousand years ago, circa 510 AD, the story goes that our ancestors-in-practice, the Shaolin monks of China, translated Sanskrit texts to Chinese, commissioned by the Emperor. When Dharma, a venerable Indian Buddhist monk came to visit the Shaolin monks, he found them in an appalling state, hunched over scrolls with brush and ink, suffering from all sorts of physical ailments and lack of stamina due to the absence of physical exercise. Thus, the venerable Dharma began to teach the Shaolin monks a series of movements derived from Yoga practices, and inspired by the 18 animals of Indo-Chinese iconography, such as the "cat's walk," the "frog's leap" or the "lion's prowl," so they would remember the movements and practice them to improve their physical health and productivity.

Today, the Shaolin monks no longer fly with words or battle with punctuation, as they are better known as masters of Kung-Fu martial arts. And while there is speculation on how the Shaolin monks' practices were transformed from physical discipline to martial arts at the expense of translation, the point here is that an intervention took place to protect their health and to ensure their survival.

Two Thousand Years Later - OSHA

On the western front in the United States, in 1970, government intervention occurred to promote safety of the workplace and to protect the health of all workers with passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This Act subsumed the creation of OSHA (pronounced as an acronym) - The US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose mission, to date, it is: "to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance"1.

Now, assuming that some two thousand years later the translator's sedentary body still needs constant exercise and care to maintain health and survival, and considering the dramatic changes in working conditions, from brush or quill to bits and bytes, the following article minds the translator body in light of OSHA guidelines, an intervention designed to protect our health as working professionals.

Relaxed & Neutral Posture

Translators sit at the terminal for long periods of time, which requires sustained posture, that is, particular musculoskeletal configurations. OSHA offers a Computer workstation eTool2 with a tabbed section dedicated to "Good working positions," defined as "neutral or relaxed." This means placing or retaining, the least possible strain and stress on body parts through natural alignment. Accordingly, all the information of the OSHA eTool is geared towards both pointing out "hazards" - obstructions to proper, neutral or relaxed, alignment of body parts such as wrists and forearms, head and shoulders, elbows, back, hips, thighs, knees and feet; and to supplying ergonomic "solutions" in reference to four postures: sitting upright, standing, declined sitting (with knees lower than buttocks), and reclined sitting (with angles between thighs and torso between 105 and 120 degrees.)

To assist with proper - neutral or relaxed- alignment of all body parts, the various components of the workstation (monitor, keyboard, mouse/pointer, wrist rest, document holder, chairs, desk and telephone) are each extensively reviewed from an ergonomic point of view, that is, from the dual standpoint of design and comfort, including use, safety and health.

For chairs, for example: backrest, seat, armrests and base are each examined in terms of their potential hazards relative to neutral posture, and additional ergonomic information is provided to resolve all the potential disruptions. For example, the absence of lumbar support to maintain the natural curvature of the spine; a seat that is too high forcing you to move forward without spine support, or to work without your feet touching the ground; the consequences of armrests that are placed too wide apart, too low or too high, on posture and shoulder alignment; the importance of a secure chair base, preferably with five contact points, to prevent tipping; or the absence of casters (swivels) to easily position a chair relative to the computer screen and keyboard, are each discussed and illustrated in reference to the potential obstructions of a relaxed neutral posture. Additional information is also supplied to resolve each of the potential hazards, drawing on both existing design solutions such as foot rests, depth or height adjustable seat pans and backrests, or tinkered ones, such as using a rolled towel for lumbar support.

Hands, Wrists & Repetitive Movement

Except for translators using a speech recognition program such as Dragon® for voice-activated control of their computer, and dictated translations, most translators type many thousands of words, putting themselves at risk for typing injuries. Typing unjuries are usually regrouped under one of the following terms: Repetitive Motion Strain (RMS) Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Repetitive Motion Injury (RMI), Repetitive Motion Disorder (RMD), which subsume specific diagnoses such as CTS - Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis and many other specific types of inflammation.

The OSHA Computer Workstation eTool contains a link to REPETITION3, where repetitive motion is quantified. For example, proficient typing invokes 18,000 keystrokes per hour, and is assumed to cause "tendon and tendon sheath injuries, especially when wrists are at an angle." Similarly, there is a risk of repetitive injury to specific fingers when using a mouse, or to other body parts (e.g.; neck or shoulder) in connection with poor or akward posture.

OSHA suggests micro breaks and task rotations4to reduce the strain of repetition and also offers a series of ergonomic solutions in the sections dedicated to the presentation of keyboard components (height, distance, design and use), and wrist rests which highlight both potential disruption to neutral alignment (e.g.; typing with a bent and unsupported wrist) and possible remedies. Similarly, the presentation on alternative keyboards (tilted and split) offers an ergonomic solution aimed at restoring neutral wrist and hand alignment.

Eyes, Vision, and Glare

The terminal reflects light which strains eyesight, and bright lights shining on the display cause the images on screen to washout, in turn causing an inability to see what is dispayed onscreen and awkward positions designed to compensate for obstructed viewing. Simlarly bright lights behind the computer cause contrast problems, which make it more diffcult to see the display. These environmental factors combined with computer component factors such as monitor position, height and angle, are presented in the OSHA eTool both to highlight the potential hazaards of eye strain and to point to ergonomic solutions to prevent eye injuries.

Judicious positionning of lights, use of blinds, non-reflective wall paint and glare filters are some of the recommended OSHA solutions. Monitor distance (20 to 40 inches from eyes to front of display), viewing angle (15 to 20 degrees below a horizontal line of vision), as well as viewing time, which needs to be interrupted for blinking purposes and to avoid dry eyes, are some of the very useful guidelines that OSHA provides to prevent eye strain and to protect vision at the computer.

There are also various types of anti-glare coatings which may be applied directly to reading/viewing glasses, and obtained via optometrists.

Breath & Air Quality

Whether it is inadequate proximity to sources of conditionned air or heat forced through the room, insufficient or inadequate ventilation, temperatures above or below optimal conditions, the quality of the air we breathe has an impact on comfort and productivity, when it is not directly related to eye ailments and allergies. OSHA recommends ambient air flow rates between 3 and 6 inches per second, room temperatures between 68°F and 74°F during the cold season and 73°F to 78°F during the hot season, and relative humidity of the air between 30 and 60%.

OSHA also mentions VOCs (volatile organic compounds), chemicals, ozone and particles coming from computers and peripherals (e.g. printers) which affect air quality and recommends, among several points, inquiring with computers manufacturers directly. OSHA also recommends to "air out" new equipment prior to installation and to ensure adeqate ventillation in this regards.

Physical Activity & Stamina

According to the 2010 World Health Organisation (WHO) status report on NCDs (noncommunicable diseases) such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases, six percent of all deaths are attributed to physical inactivity making it the fourth largest risk factor for global mortality. This is chilling news for a very sendentary and cushy profession, and one that gives further heed to First Lady (& Dharma) Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign.

Minding Our Bodies

OSHA may be well known to translators for all the translations it generates: MSDS (Manufacturer Safety Data Sheets) for workplace products, standards for workplace safety, and for the trusted seals of approval that it delivers. However, as the above discussion of the potential hazards of computer workstations reveals, and ergonomic recommendations suggest, there is good reason to use the OSHA guidelines for ourselves, to mind our bodies, and to protect the joy of translation.


Ricoeur, P. (2004) Sur la traduction. Paris, France: Editions Bayard.

OSHA website - Occupational Safety and Health Administration:www.osha.gov [Link visited Jan 23, 2012]

World Health Organization - (2010) Global Status Report on Non-communicable diseases. Available online at http://www.who.int/chp/ncd global status report/en/index.html [Link visited Jan 23, 2012]

1 http://www.osha.gov/about.html

2 http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/index.html

3 http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/more.html#repetition

4 http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/workprocess.html