Ergonomics - Setting Up a Healthy Work Environment

Note: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes and is not medical advice.

This article gives some tips for setting up your work station to reduce your risk of developing musculo-skeletal disorders. This information is based on ergonomics—the science of making the workplace fit the needs of the worker. These simple suggestions can often bring relief. If you need more specific help, you might consult an expert on ergonomics.

Checking Your Comfort

Use this checklist to see if you are setting up your work environment to fit your physical needs.

  1. Checking Your Environment
    • Check for room temperature and drafts. Windows can bring in strong sunshine with too much heat; air conditioning vents or windows can cause drafts. Cool air blowing directly on the neck can cause muscular tension.
    • Clutter may cause stress; take some time to organize your work station so you can find things easily.
  2. Arranging Your Equipment
    • Is your equipment arranged so that you can work in a natural and relaxed position?
    • Are items that you use frequently within easy reach?
  3. Checking Your Table
    • Your table or workstation should allow you to sit with your wrists straight. Adjust the table to the proper height by lowering the table or raising the seat height of your chair.
    • Handwriting and typing may require two different table (or chair) heights.
  4. Checking Your Chair
    • Your chair should be stable and adjusted to fit your body. Your body should be in a relaxed and upright position. Check your chair for correct height of seat and backrest to support a straight, balanced, and well-supported posture.
    • When sitting, does the backrest support your lower back? If the backrest has no curve, use a lumbar support pillow to support the curve of the lower back (lumbar spine).
    • Are your feet flat on the floor? Only use a footrest when attempts to adjust your chair and workstation fail to keep your feet flat.
    • Is there even pressure on the two sitting bones?
    • Is your back straight? Watch for twisting and avoid slumping.
    • Is the angle between your thighs and back 90 degrees or more?
    • Is the angle between your thighs and lower legs 90 degrees or more?
    • Do armrests or forearm supports allow your shoulder muscles to relax?
    • Make sure that the backs of your lower legs do not press against the front edge of the chair.
    • Be sure that you have adequate clearance between the top of your thighs and the underside of your workstation.
    • Sometimes, replacing your chair with one that fits your body correctly can be immediately helpful in easing neck and shoulder tension.
  5. Checking Your Keyboard
    • Is your keyboard directly in front of you?
    • Is your keyboard angled properly so your wrists are straight when you type?
    • Do you avoid resting your wrists on sharp edges?
    • Are your shoulders, wrists, and hands relaxed?
    • Adjust the keyboard height so that your elbows are near your body and your forearms are parallel to the floor, with your forearms resting on either armrests or forearm supports. (If you do not have armrests or forearm supports, your upper arms should hang comfortably at your sides.)
    • Type with your hands and wrists floating above the keyboard. Use a wrist pad only to rest your wrists between typing. Avoid continued pressure on the wrists.
    • Type with your wrists straight. Instead of twisting your wrists sideways to press hard-to-reach keys, move your whole arm. Keep from bending your wrists, hands, or fingers sideways.
    • Press the keys gently; do not bang them. Keep your shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers relaxed.
    • Ergonomic keyboards which can help posture may be purchased.
  6. Checking Your Mouse
    • Is your mouse at the same height as the keyboard and next to the keyboard?
    • Are your wrists straight and your touch light when moving the mouse? Do not grasp the mouse tightly. Grasp the mouse lightly and loosely.
    • Do you use your entire arm when moving a mouse?
  7. Checking Your Monitor
    • Do your eyes look slightly downward when viewing the middle of the screen?
    • Do you periodically rest your eyes by blinking often or looking away from the screen?
    • Is your monitor no closer than 12 inches and no further away than 28 inches from your eyes?
    • Do you use a document holder placed close to the screen?
    • Position the monitor at a 90 degree angle to windows and other light sources to minimize glare and reflections. Adjust the monitor tilt so that ceiling lights do not reflect on your screen. If reflected light makes it hard for you to see your screen, use an anti-glare filter.
    • Clean your monitor regularly. Use a lint-free, non-abrasive cloth and a non-alcohol, neutral, non-abrasive cleaning solution or glass cleaner to minimize dust.
    • Adjust the monitor's brightness and contrast controls to enhance readability.
    • Position whatever you are looking at most of the time (the monitor or reference material) directly in front of you to minimize turning your head while you are typing.
    • Get regular eye checkups.
  8. Checking Yourself
    • Do you vary your tasks throughout the day?
    • When you stop typing for a while, rest your hands in your lap or at your sides instead of leaving them on the keyboard.
    • Eliminate unnecessary computer usage. Play fewer video games; call instead of sending e-mail.
    • Do you take microbreaks (less than one minute) to counteract tension buildup and fatigue in muscles and eyes?
    • Do you take frequent mini-breaks that involve walking, standing, and stretching? During these breaks, stretch muscles and joints that were in one position for an extended period of time. Relax muscles and joints that were active.
    • Do you spend time during your lunch break to do some active movement?
    • Use a timer or reminder software to remind you to take breaks.
    • Anything that creates awkward reaches or angles in the body may create problems.
    • Do you remove your wallet from your back pocket before sitting? It can tilt the pelvis and cause back strain or interfere with circulation.
    • Voice recognition software may be purchased.
    • To enhance blood circulation, alter your sitting posture periodically and keep your hands and wrists warm.
    • Watch for signs of repetitive strain disorders including: tightness, discomfort, stiffness, or pain in the hands, wrists, fingers, forearms, or elbows; tingling, coldness, or numbness in the hands; clumsiness or loss of strength and coordination in the hands; recurring pain in the neck or shoulders; pain that wakes you up at night.
    • Previous injuries (auto accidents, falls, etc.) may be aggravated by sitting occupations and may require professional treatment.
    • Regular massage can also help ease contracted muscles, improve circulation, increase relaxation, decrease stress, and enhance awareness of posture.
    • Proper exercise when away from the job can help alleviate fatigue.

Some helpful resources:Stretching at Your Computer or Desk and Stretching in the Office, both by Bob Anderson. These easy to use books show how to incorporate simple stretches into a typical work day in an office.

For your convenience, here is a link to to search for the most current materials on ergonomics: Search Amazon for ergonomics books, etc.

This article was inspired by the following resources: Ready User's Guide by NEC, Stretching at Your Computer or Desk by Bob Anderson and from my own experience and education.

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Jan's book: