ErgoSentry keeps watch on how people use their computers

Proformix Systems
Inc., Branchburg, N.J.; tel. 800-973-2739

Price: $64.95 per user for 50 users, $19.95 for 5,000 up

Pros and cons:

+        Full administrator control over
ergonomic program

+        User obedience enforceable

–        Possible user resistance

–        Not on CD-ROM

Real-life requirements:

Windows 9x or Windows NT clients, network server for advanced administration
features, portable computer for ergonomic workplace checker

ErgoSentry may not put a bounce in users’ steps, but it might keep them from
developing a limp.

The package from Proformix Systems Inc. claims to improve posture and reduce
repetitive-stress injuries, neck cramps, sore joints and other aches and pains caused by
working in unhealthy positions.

In the past, users have gotten little or no relief from ergonomic aids that simply
watch the system clock and give egg timer prompts to take a break, regardless of whether
the person just returned from lunch. Likewise, key-counter products that set off break
alarms after a set number of keystrokes ignore users’ posture and sometimes even
their mouse movements.

I am generally skeptical about the value of such products. But after testing ErgoSentry
for more than a month, my back does feel better.

I tried the advanced version of ErgoSentry, called Proformix EMS, whose server
application lets administrators fine-tune ergonomic security for their networks. I tested
mostly from the user’s point of view.

ErgoSentry is more than an egg timer. It counts keystrokes and mouse movements, but it
also takes into account how frequently the user types. If you let up for a while, the
counter resets. When you type furiously at top speed, it triggers a break alert much

There are five levels of break alerts. Depending on how the administrator sets up the
master file, breaks can be either suggested or mandatory, locking up the system. Low-level
alerts can be followed up with mandatory ones if a workaholic refuses to rest. Workers on
deadline will complain, of course, but the breaks generally last only a minute.

During a break, the screen displays helpful exercises to alleviate motion stress.
Administrators can choose which exercises to display depending on different workers’

An ergonomic checklist, designed to run on a portable computer, lets a manager walk
around and record data about each worker’s posture and typing habits. The higher a
worker’s risk score, the greater the chance of repeated-motion injuries. Each user
gets suggestions on how to correct bad posture.

Later computer readings compare automatically with previous ones to show whether the
worker has improved or continues to slouch.

Proformix EMS is one of the most customizable programs I’ve seen. Administrators
can set up break schedules for an entire office based on work habits.

Some users will dislike being forced to take breaks or to type at certain speeds. They
also may dislike the administrator’s access to work files that reveal keystrokes or
mouse clicks made per day and number of rest breaks earned. If you never earn a break, it
could appear to the boss that you are not working hard enough.

The program comes on eight 1.44M floppy disks—an ergonomically poor medium
compared with CD-ROM. Just switching the installation diskettes around for multiple
computers would be a real pain. But Proformix EMS stands a good chance of raising overall
productivity if fewer workers experience injuries. Time spent on stretch breaks could
easily be made up by lower absenteeism.  

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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