Office Ergonomics 101
Learn how to lower costs and boost productivity with a proactive office ergonomics process.
Office Ergonomics 101
The rise of computer technology in the workplace over the past couple decades is astounding. Possibly the greatest oversight with regard to this technology is the way our human bodies interact with the equipment. When office workstations are designed poorly, it often leads to fatigued, frustrated and hurting workers. These workers are rarely the most productive, and they often develop costly and painful musculoskeletal (soft tissue) injuries and disorders (MSDs).
A sound office ergonomics program is part of your company’s commitment to maintaining a safe place of work for employees. Properly designed office workstations help employees avoid fatigue and discomfort, freeing their minds and bodies to do their best work.
Common symptoms of a poorly designed workstation are:
- Back pain
- Hand and wrist pain
- Pain in the neck and shoulders
These symptoms can lead to further fatigue and discomfort and result in costly musculoskeletal injuries and disorders (MSD’s) down the road.
The goal of your office ergonomics process is to reduce and eliminate causative risk factors that contribute to costly injuries and poor work performance.
Office Workstation Design
Design your office workstation with ergonomics in mind to reduce fatigue and increase productivity.
Follow the office ergonomics checklist below to ensure your office workstation is designed with sound ergonomic principles.
- Is your chair vertically adjustable and on a five-point base?
- Does your chair have an adjustable lumbar (low back) support?
- Does the backrest provide adequate support for your back?
- Does your seat pan width and depth provide for good fit and comfort?
- Does the seat pan cushion provide adequate comfort for you?
- Does your seat pan have tilt adjustability?
- Does your seat pan have depth (forward and backward) adjustability?
- Does the seat pan have a rounded front that does not pressure the back of your knees and legs?
- When seated, are your knees at or below the level of your hips (knees not higher than hips)?
- Do your feet rest flat on floor or are they supported by a stable footrest?
- Does your chair have armrests that support your forearms and do not interfere with swivel or normal movements of the chair?
Keyboard and Mouse
- Does the keyboard location allow you to keep your upper arms and elbows close to body (arms not extended outward beyond 45 degrees)?
- Is there weight bearing support for your arms (chair arms or wrist rest) which allows you to rest periodically when you are using your keyboard?
- Does the keyboard position and angle allow for a neutral wrist posture so hands are in a straight line with forearms (not bent up/down or sideways toward little finger)?
- Does the mouse location allow you to keep your upper arm and elbow close to body (arm not extended outward beyond 45 degrees)?
- Is there weight bearing support for your arm (chair arm or wrist rest) which allows you to rest periodically when you are using your mouse?
- Does the placement of the mouse allow for a neutral wrist posture so your hand is in a straight line with forearm (not bent up/down or sideways toward little finger)?
- Do your arms and wrists rest upon surface areas (arm rests, wrist rests, desktop) absent any sharp or hard edges?
- Is the monitor in a location that eliminates glare on the screen which might cause you to assume an awkward posture to read screen? (Answer “no” if there is any glare on your screen)
- Is the screen placed at right angles or away from windows and task lights to avoid glare and bright light directly behind the screen?
- Is the screen directly in front of you (no twisting of your head or neck)?
- Is the top line of screen at or slightly (0-30 degrees) below eye level?
- Is the monitor located at least arm’s length away from you?
- Can you clearly read the screen without bending head, neck or trunk forward/backward?
- Is there adequate desktop space available to perform job tasks without twisting, side bending, or reaching?
- Is there enough clearance for your feet, knees, and legs?
- Is there adequate space that allows you to swivel your chair (without leg obstruction) to perform work tasks?
- If your job requires frequent telephone use, is a headset provided to use when phone communication is combined with hand tasks such as typing or writing?
- If your job requires frequent viewing of documents, is a document holder provided to hold documents in a vertical position?
- Is the document holder (if provided) placed at about the same height and distance as monitor screen?
Choosing Office Equipment
With all the marketing hype out there about ergonomics, it can be difficult to choose the right equipment without falling into the marketing trap — leaving you with expensive equipment that isn’t ergonomic at all.
If you’re an office worker, arranging your computer workstation correctly is an important first step to care for your overall health and well-being. A poorly designed workstation can have bad long-term effects on your health and your productivity. Back pain, hand/wrist pain, and pain in the neck and shoulders are common problems for office workers.
This is preventable. Read on to learn how to arrange your computer workstation for less fatigue and discomfort and greater productivity.
How to Select the Right Desk
Finding the right desk for you can be tough. There are so many things to consider.
Should you sit? Should you stand? How high should the desk be? How much work space do you need? Not to mention… what does the desk look like?
The truth is that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all perfect desk solution. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each solution and find out what’s right for your situation. To help you do that, we’ve compiled a list of resources for finding the right desk.
How to Select the Right Ergonomic Office Chair
If you’re an office athlete, chances are pretty good you spend a ton of time in your office chair. This means that a good office chair is a great investment in your health, wellbeing and productivity. To help you pick the right chair, we’ve put together an 11-point checklist.
How to Select and Use a Keyboard
Selecting the right keyboard is an important part of designing your computer workstation. If you have the wrong keyboard setup right now, your aching hands and wrists likely agree with the previous statement.
Of course, there is no one size fits all solution and there are many considerations for finding the right keyboard for you.
How to Select and Use a Computer Mouse
If you’re an office worker that spends a lot of time at a computer, you probably know what it’s like to have discomfort in your hand and wrist from frequent mousing.
And you know it’s no fun at all. If the pain and discomfort persists over time, amusculoskeletal injury is likely to develop. If that doesn’t convince you to select and use your mouse correctly, a quick Google image search of “carpal tunnel syndrome surgery” should do the trick.
If painful surgery isn’t on your to do list, up your office ergonomics game with the following helpful tips and guidelines for using your computer mouse correctly.
How to Correctly Position Your Computer Monitor
Positioning your computer monitor correctly is an important part of arranging your computer workstation. A poorly positioned monitor could introduce awkward and uncomfortable postures which can eventually lead to a painfulmusculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
Another common problem created by a poorly placed monitor is eyestrain, which is also uncomfortable and can lead to health and productivity issues.
Let’s prevent that by correctly placing your computer monitor. Get started with this simple, six-point checklist.
Practical Tips to Avoid Fatigue
Learn practical tips to help you use office ergonomics best practices and avoid fatigue and discomfort.
Whether you’re an OHS professional in charge of providing a safe work environment for the employees at your company or simply a computer user who wants to avoid fatigue, following a few simple guidelines can help you significantly improve your office work station.
Make sure that the weight of your arms is supported at all times.
If your arms are not supported, the muscles of your neck and shoulders will be crying by the end of the day.
Watch your head position.
Maintain good head and neck posture, and try to keep the weight of your head directly above its base of support (neck). Don’t “crane” your head and neck forward.
Don’t be a slouch!
Slouching puts more pressure on the discs and vertebrae of your back. Use the lumbar support of your chair and avoid sitting in a way that places body weight more on one than on the other. Move your chair as close to your work as possible to avoid leaning and reaching. Make sure to “scoot” your chair in every time you sit down.
The keyboard should be directly in front of the monitor so you don’t have to frequently turn your head and neck.
Talking on the phone with the phone receiver jammed between the neck and ear is really bad practice.
You know that’s true, so don’t do it!
Keep the keyboard and mouse close.
The keyboard and the mouse should close enough to prevent excessive reaching which strains the shoulders and arms.
Avoid eye strain.
Avoid eye strain by making sure that your monitor is not too close, it should be at least an arm’s length away.
Control screen glare.
Take steps to control screen glare, and make sure that the monitor is not placed in front of a window or a bright background.
Rest your eyes.
You can rest your eyes periodically for several seconds by looking at objects at a distance to give your eyes a break.
Your feet should not be dangling when you are seated.
If your feet don’t comfortably reach the floor or there is pressure on the backs of your legs, use a footrest or lower the keyboard and chair.
Rest, Stretching, and Exercise
One of the most important (yet often overlooked) piece of office ergonomics is to rest, stretch, and get plenty of exercise. Using these self-care techniques will empower you to maintain high levels of musculoskeletal health.
Additional Office Ergonomics Resources
Get more tools and training to implement an office ergonomics process for your organization.
Ergonomic Guidelines for Arranging a Computer Workstation | from Cornell University Ergonomics Web
This is a must-read set of ergonomic guidelines created by Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University. Professor Hedge takes you step-by-step through, “10 steps for a good ergonomic arrangement.”
Ergonomics of the Office and Workplace: An Overview | from Spine Health
This overview of office ergonomics from Spine Health offers a practical approach to office ergonomics with a focus on reducing back pain, one of the most common workplace injuries.
Computer Workstations | from OSHA
This page on the OSHA website is its’ home base for information relating to office ergonomics. It contains a few handy tools including an evaluation checklist, purchasing guide checklist and an archive of quick tips.
Office Ergonomics Overview and Resources | from UCLA Ergonomics
This resources page from UCLA Ergonomics offers a 4-step checklist to setting up your workstation, tips for computer users, tips for pointing devices, a postural guide, workstation myths and more.
Office Ergonomics – Practical Solutions for a Safer Workplace | from Washington State Department of Labor & Industries
This 73-page PDF file from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries is a comprehensive overview of office ergonomics and workplace musculoskeletal disorders. It also includes a few helpful case studies to help you see office ergonomics in action.
Office Ergonomics – Guidelines for Preventing Musculoskeletal Injuries | from WorkSafeNB|
This guidebook from WorkSafeNB provides the basic tools to set up and maintain a healthy workspace in the office. It also contains helpful sections on pointing devices, chairs, work space, keyboards, monitor position and more.
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