The ubiquitous use of computers in our work life has resulted in an increase in associated injuries. These injuries can vary from a mild pain in the shoulder to serious conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Commonly referred to as Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs, these injuries can develop gradually when the same muscles, tendons or body parts are used repeatedly without allowing the body enough time for rest and recovery.
Therefore, it is pertinent that we follow the right practices for health and safety.
Ergonomic practices reduce the risk of MSDs by adapting the workplace to fit the person instead of forcing the person to adapt to the work.
Ergonomic workstation not only eliminates the discomfort one might face while working, it even prevents it from occurring in the first place.
What is an Ergonomic Workstation?
Setting up an ergonomic workstation is simply a matter of placing yourself in a neutral posture, and then arranging the furniture and equipment to work in that posture.
This suggested neutral posture is a comfortable working posture in which the joints are naturally aligned and the risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder is reduced.
However, it is important to note that sitting still for long periods or being in one posture for long periods isn’t healthy. Hence, small adjustments every 15-20 mins are helpful.
Components of An Ergonomic Workstation
There are five main areas to focus on while setting up an Ergonomic Workstation:
Workstation and Work Surface
A workstation refers to the furniture (computer desk, chair, stools, etc), computers, and equipment that one uses in the usual work area.
A work surface refers to the component of the workstation on which the tasks are performed.
The layout of furniture and the organization of a workstation makes a big difference in the way work gets done. A poor layout can be a barrier to physical movement and communication, while a well-planned layout can enhance efficiency.
An important component of an ergonomic workstation is the arrangement of all work-related equipment on the workspace.
If you are a right-handed user, you will find it easier to move between the computer and desk work if the writing surface is to the right of your computer, while for left-handers it is the opposite. If you use a desk phone, it should also be placed with this fact in mind.
Phone lines, power cords and computer cables should be long enough to allow some flexibility in the placement of equipment.
If your workspace is small, other aids such as file holders, shelves, telephone stands will prove to be handy.
Place frequently used materials, tools, and controls within easy reach. Long reaches can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain, as well as to imprecise operations. This is between 15 and 40 cm from the front of the body and within 40 cm from the side of the body at elbow height
The correct height of places where work is done with the hands facilitates efficient work and reduces fatigue. Most work operations are best performed around elbow level.
If work surfaces are too high, we must raise our arms and shoulders. This requires continuous muscular effort, called “static effort” or “static loading”.
This static effort in the arms and shoulders may be fatiguing, and it may also hinder blood flow, adding to discomfort and even to the risk of injury.
In addition, the wrist may be flexed (bent forward) to reach the keys, placing stress on forearm muscles and wrist tissues.
If the work surfaces are too low, we must lean forward, placing stresses on the arms and back. As well, the wrists will tend to be bent back, also stressing the muscles and tissues.
For standing workers, the hand height should be a little or somewhat below elbow level.
If the same work table is used for both standing and sitting work, take care to provide a higher working surface for standing work and to avoid too high a working height for seated work.
This is usually done by choosing a table suited to seated workers and inserting platforms or fixtures under work items handled while standing, to raise them to the correct level.
Alternatively, choose a table height for standing work and provide high chairs and adjustable footrests for seated work.
If your seating doesn’t adequately support your back, feet, and arms, it may result in increased fatigue and discomfort. Also, sitting for long periods without varying your posture increases fatigue.
This can be easily done by adjusting the chair position or alternating between standing and sitting while working.
Alternating standing and sitting are much better than keeping either posture for a long period of time. It is less stressful, reduces fatigue and improves morale.
A good ergonomic chair provides sufficient support for your body and allows you to vary your posture throughout the day.
Following tips from WorkSafeBC help you adjust your chair: to the optimal height. Raise or lower your chair so you are sitting with your:
- Forearms held horizontally, elbows bent about 90 degrees (right angle) or slightly greater, with your elbows just clear of the top of the work surface (desk or keyboard tray)
- Wrists straight when you place your hands on the keyboard or mouse
- Thighs resting horizontally with a 90– 110-degree angle at the hips
Use a footrest if your feet are not flat on the floor when you adjust your chair height as per above points.
In addition, to minimize postural fatigue and discomfort slightly adjust the positioning of the head, shoulders, arms, back, hips, and legs. For example, hip angle changes as a person reclining in their chair. Leg and hip angles change as a person stretches their legs out in front. Shoulder and arm angles can be changed by moving the chair forward or back slightly.
We work with a lot of different computer equipment such as Keyboard, monitors, mouse, etc. And if you’re using any of these things the wrong way, it could lead to issues and injuries as well.
Below are some tips on how to use this equipment the right way.
When working at a keyboard, your upper arms should hang naturally from the shoulders. The elbows should be bent at roughly a 90-degree angle when the fingers are in typing position on the home row of the keyboard. This posture allows the arms and wrists to be held in a natural and relaxed position that puts the least amount of physical stress on muscles and joints.
To obtain the optimal keyboard height:
- Adjust the keyboard surface up or down so that your wrists are straight when your fingers are on the middle row of keys.
- If your keyboard surface doesn’t adjust this way, raise or lower your chair until you can hold your wrists straight while touching the middle row of keys.
- Your work surface should be just below your elbows, and your forearms should be parallel to the floor, with your elbows at your sides.
- You can also make a slight adjustment to the keyboard angle and height by folding the small legs, found on the underside of most keyboards, in or out. In most cases, you will need to keep the legs folded in to keep the keyboard flat and prevent bending of your wrists.
Palm or Wrist supports
If you tend to drop your palms or wrists while typing, you could develop sore wrists. A palm or wrist support can provide support during rest periods from typing.
The support should be similar in thickness to your keyboard and narrow in depth so that it only touches the palm, not the wrist. It should be made of a soft, smooth, rounded material.
The mouse and other pointing devices
If your mouse or other pointing device is at the proper height, you will be able to keep your wrists straight, shoulders relaxed, and elbows by your sides. This is typically a comfortable position that may decrease your risk of injury.
Consider the following when using a mouse:
- Keep your mouse at the same height and as close to your keyboard as is practical.
- Make sure you have enough space to move the mouse freely.
- Avoid bending your wrist back or to either side.
- Use a full arm motion from the shoulder when guiding the mouse.
- Relax your hand over the mouse. Don’t hold it too tightly.
- Take your hand off the mouse when you are not using it.
- If you are experiencing discomfort in your hand or wrist, try increasing the mouse’s pointer speed.
- Use an ergonomic mouse and an ergonomic mouse pad to minimize the strain on your wrist and palm.
Other pointing devices
Other pointing devices such as styluses, tablets, and trackballs should also be within a comfortable reach if you use them often or for long periods of time. Keep your wrists straight and your upper body relaxed when using these devices.
To obtain the optimal working posture for using a pointing device ensure that your wrists are straight. It can be achieved by adjusting your work surface. If your work surface isn’t adjustable, raise or lower your chair until you can hold your wrists straight.
Laptops are more difficult to adjust to allow for good working postures.
If you anticipate spending long continuous hours on the laptop, the best option would be to use separate components (peripherals). For example, you can use the laptop screen as your monitor and attach an external keyboard and mouse.
Using separate components allows each one to be independently adjusted.
If it is not feasible to use external components, adjust laptop placement to avoid any injuries or discomfort, for e.g.:
- When reading lengthy documents, raise the screen to eye level to avoid bending your head downward.
- When typing intensively, lower the keyboard so that your elbows just clear the top of the work surface, your arms are by your sides with about a 90-degree angle at the elbow, and your wrists are straight.
Bad lighting can cause eye strain. It could also lead to muscles soreness or fatigue by causing you to adopt awkward postures to see your screen or documents. Too much or too little light is equally troublesome.
Glare can shine directly into your eyes or be reflected from other surfaces (for example, your screen, desktop, or walls) into your eyes. Sources of glare include sunlight, overhead lighting, and desk lamps.
Consider these tips for controlling glare on your monitor screen:
- Adjust brightness and contrast.
- Use a light-colored background on the screen.
- Place the monitor so that your line of sight is parallel to the window.
- Adjust the monitor to a vertical position, if possible.
If you still have glare problems after making adjustments to your workstation, try reducing the amount of overhead lighting. Light levels can be lowered and glare prevented by installing a dimmer switch or diffusers.
An anti-glare screen is another way to reduce glare which causes eye strain.
Glass anti-glare screens or filters are preferable to nylon mesh screens, which can reduce the clarity of the letters on the screen, making reading difficult.
If you install an anti-glare screen, clean it regularly. This prevents dust buildup, which makes reading more difficult. Nylon mesh screens are particularly prone to dust buildup. Most new monitors are designed to control glare.
One important aspect of ergonomics that is often overlooked is the work routine or schedule you follow. It includes elements like :
- The types and variety of tasks you do
- How you do these tasks
- How many tasks you do
- The order and rotation of the tasks
- When you take breaks
- The use of micro-pauses for rest
Plan your work schedule in a way to take frequent breaks from one posture and your computer. Do other jobs that don’t involve using a computer. It is better to take several short breaks, where you can change your posture, rather than one long break.
An ergonomic workstation is about placing yourself in a neutral posture and then arranging the furniture and equipment to work in that posture.
Ergonomic workstation not only helps in keeping your body free of any risks or injuries, it also helps in improving productivity and efficiency.
For setting up an Ergonomic Workstation:
- Check your posture
- When using your keyboard or mouse, keep your forearms horizontal, at about a 90 degree (right) angle at the elbow, with shoulders and upper arms relaxed.
- Keep your wrists in a straight position when using your keyboard or mouse.
- When you look at the screen, keep your head upright
- Support your lower back by the curved part of the chair backrest
- Your thighs should rest horizontally with a 90– 110-degree angle at the hips.
- Sit without feeling pressure from the chair seat on the back of your thighs or knees
- Support your feet fully by the floor or a footrest
- Adjust your chair
- Adjust the height of your chair 38–51 cm (15–20 in.) to achieve a straight wrist posture
- You should be able to raise or lower the chair backrest or adjust the angle of the backrest with ease.
- If your chair has armrests, place your chair at a comfortable typing or viewing distance from the screen.
- Use a footrest with a non-slip surface
- The footrest should support both your feet when your heels are 12 cm (5 in.) apart.
- The upholstery should be made of a breathable fabric
- Rearrange your workstation layout
- The top line of text on your screen (not the top of the monitor) should be at eye level.
- Is the distance between your eyes and the screen about arm’s length? Most people find a viewing distance of 50 cm (20 in.) between eyes and the screen comfortable.
- The angle of the keyboard should allow you to work with your wrists straight.
- Your mouse and keyboard should be on the same level and close to one another.
- You should be able to reach your mouse comfortably without stretching
- Keep frequently used items within 0–30 cm (0–12 in.)
- Keep occasionally used items within 30–50 cm (12–20 in.)
- Keep enough space beneath your work surface to move your legs
- Improve lighting and minimize glare
- The level of light should make it easy for you to see the screen without squinting or straining
- The screen should be free of reflected glare
- When working at your computer, do you have enough light to read hard copy documents easily
- Improve your work routine
- Consider the elements of your job to determine if they can be improved by reorganizing, alternating, modifying, or expanding the tasks you perform
- Take regular breaks away from the computer throughout the day
- Take micro-pauses when working at the computer
- Vary your work activities regularly so that you change your posture and use other muscles
- Pace your work activities over the entire shift
- Stretch and Move your muscles regularly
Ergonomics tips and other recommendations from WorkSafeBC
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