As the nature of work changes so does our relationship with it. Large numbers of people now make their living sitting in a stationary position, often in front of a computer for much of their working day. While this has reduced the number of serious workplace injuries, it has introduced a whole new class of workplace injuries: repetitive strain injuries caused by poor workstation ergonomics.
Without proper workstation ergonomics, sitting at a workstation for long hours can result in all sorts of repetitive strain injuries — everything from problems with the knees and hips to trouble with the wrists, forearms, shoulders, elbows and neck. Proper workstation ergonomics will help to minimize fatigue and discomfort, regularly reducing likelihood of a workstation injury.
Workstation Ergonomics Checklist
Having a neutral workstation setup is key to avoiding repetitive strain injuries. The following guidelines can help:
- Position the monitor so there is no strain on your neck. You should be looking straight ahead with your neck in a neutral position, not up or down.
- Elbows should be at a 90 degree angle with the forearms supported. Your arms should be straight and neutral — not angled up or down
- Imagine a straight line from your elbows through your fingers. Forearms, wrists, and fingers should all be straight and neutral with no bend.
- Position the height of your chair so that your thighs run parallel to the floor with your feet resting flat on the floor.
- If you need a footrest to accomplish #4 add one. It’s important that your legs and feet are also in a neutral position.
- A good quality office chair with adjustable height, tilt, wheels on the base, lumbar support and arm height will make it easier to achieve a neutral position.
- Your wrist and forearm should be supported and there should be enough space to use the mouse without having to bend or twist your arm or wrist.
- Adjust the distance to the screen so that it roughly arms length from your eyes.
Your chair set up is probably the most important factor in creating your perfect ergonomic setup. Your chair should be at a height where your feet can rest flat on the floor while sitting as far back in the chair as possible. Your knees should be level or slightly below the height for your hips. Your armrest should be used to support your shoulders. Your chair should only be reclined to about 100 degrees. There should be a curve in your chair (lumbar support) that sits in the small of your lower back.
Keyboard & Mouse
Your keyboard should be positioned right in front of you with the ‘B’ key in line with your nose if your job requires you to use the letters more frequently than the number pad. Your palms should never rest on the keyboard (this makes you hold your wrists in extension) and the height of the keyboard should be about 2 inches below your elbow. Keep your mouse close to your keyboard.
Computer Monitor And Phone
The computer monitor should be at arm’s length in front of you, using the tip of your middle finger, and the top of the monitor should be a few inches above eye level. If you were to close your eyes and re-open them, your eyes should fall roughly on the address bar. If you have two monitors, keep them close together and center your keyboard between them. If your monitor catches a glare from the window, turn on a desk lamp to combat the incoming light.
Increasingly, workers are required to use a keyboard while on the telephone. This often results in awkward head, neck and back postures with the receiver cradled between the shoulder and head to leave both hands free. Workers required to use a computer while on the telephone for long periods tend to experience discomfort, particularly in the head and back.
In such cases, headsets should be used. Hands-free phones are also an option, where the office space and task are appropriate. A spacer or cradle that mounts to the handset is not a preferred option. Although it improves the head position, a static effort is still needed to hold the handset in place.Many employers will provide staff with a headset as an alternative to sandwiching the phone between their shoulder and ear, but if not, get your employer to provide you with one.
You should get up and walk to the printer, water cooler, etc. often – don’t keep everything right at your desk. If you will be working on one task for more than an hour, make sure you take breaks every 20 minutes or so to stretch. Lastly, to avoid eye fatigue from staring at a screen all day, every 20 minutes turn your head away from the screen and focus on an object in the distance. After 1 minute, look back and continue working.
If You Wear Glasses
Many people wear glasses and as we get older our vision tends to change. People who wear bifocals for example will often tilt their neck to view text through the “reading” portion of the bifocals. Although this will work for short periods of time it is a recipe for trouble over extended working periods. If you wear bifocal lenses you need to adjust your monitor height so that viewing through the “reading” portion of the bifocal lenses keeps the neck in a neutral position.
Specialty glasses designed for computer work can also be an option. Reverse bifocal lenses have the “reading” portion on top, allowing for neutral neck position. Another solution for anyone who wears glasses is single focus lenses — a pair of glasses specifically designed with a focal point at arm’s length. These can also be useful for those who are nearsighted. Eyestrain from long hours in front of a monitor can be a major issue. Discuss these issues with your optometrist and choose a solution that works best for you.
If you do a lot of transcribing from or referring to printed source material the same considerations apply. They need to be at arm’s length, the same as your computer monitor. Position document holders directly to the right of left of the monitor on the same plane. A document holder can either be free-standing or the clamp on type. The size and thickness of the documents you need to hold will dictate which type suits you best.
How Apex Can Help
If you’ve suffered a repetitive strain injury due to poor workstation ergonomics we can help. We can treat your injury and help you achieve a neutral workstation setup. Therapies that might help with your repetitive strain injury may include: