Office Ergonomics

Working at a desk may not seem to be hard physical work, but sitting for long periods of time, typing and filing can be tiring and can strain muscles in your back, arms and legs. Paying attention to some simple suggestions for maximizing your comfort will help you to work safely and comfortably. Use this checklist of healthy behaviors to test your knowledge and practice of a safe workstation.

Self-Care

  • Are you involved in a regular conditioning exercise program -such as walking swimming or bicycling?
  • Do you drink enough fluids when you exercise?
  • Do you stretch your muscles before and after exercising?
  • Do you do quick simple exercises for your shoulders and hands several times during your workday?
  • Do you keep things that are used frequently (pens, books, etc.) close at hand to minimize reaching?

Sitting at a Desk

  • Do you change your position in your chair often?
  • Do you change where you put your telephone or document holder so you're not always working from the same side of your body?
  • Do you sit with your feet flat on the floor and avoid crossing your legs?
  • Do you use a footrest if your chair height does not allow your feet to be flat on the floor?
  • Do you support the curve of your back with your chair back or a backroll?
  • Do you leave space between the back of your knees and the front edge of the chair?
  • Do you know the adjustment features available on your chair and do you use them to make yourself comfortable?
  • Do you hold your neck in a comfortable position, in line with your shoulders?

Typing or Keyboarding

  • Do you keep your shoulders relaxed and in a line with your hips?
  • Do you use armrests if needed to keep your forearms level with the floor and supported?
  • Do you keep your wrists and hands level with your forearms while you type or keyboard?
  • Do you blink your eyes frequently to keep them moist?
  • Do you change your focus from the monitor or copy holder to a more distant object several times an hour?
  • Do you arrange your monitor so that your eyes are level with the top of the screen?
  • Do you make sure there is adequate lighting in your desk area adjusted so there isn't glare on your screen?

If you answered "yes" to all these questions, consider yourself a wise and safe worker. If not, then see below for some safety tips and resources. Post the reverse page next to your desk then try taking the test again in a few weeks and see the improvement.

Safety Tips

  • Think of your body as an orchestra. If one instrument is out of tune, it affects the sound of the entire group. If one area of your body is strained or out of line, it can affect the surrounding muscle groups and joints.
  • Changing your posture every half-hour or so will help keep you comfortable and your muscles loose. Move your feet back and forth, stretch your spine back, shrug your shoulders and shake your wrists up and down.
  • Rotate your work activities so you don't stay in one position for too long.
  • Your neck feels best when it's in a neutral position. Position your computer monitor with this in mind. Never use your neck and shoulder to cradle the telephone. Consider using a phone headset that will allow you to move freely while talking.
  • Your eyes should be level with the top of the monitor. Use a book to raise the screen if it's too low. A monitor that can swivel is best. The monitor should be 20-28 inches from your eyes.
  • The curve of your back should be supported by your chair. If the chair has an adjustable backrest, move it forward or backward as required. If not, use a pad or roll to support your back.
  • Feet should be resting flat on the floor. Keep enough room between your knees and the desk so that they are not cramped. If your feet are dangling, lower the chair, if possible, or use a footrest. An adjustable footrest will allow you to change your feet position forward and backward throughout the day.
  • Always ask for the product literature that accompanied your chair and look to see how you can adjust it to meet your particular needs.
  • When seated at a workstation, shoulders should be in line with hips, not hunched forward or slumped. Forearms should be at a right angle with the upper arm. Wrists should be in a straight line with the forearm and hands in a straight line with the wrists. Your wrists should not rest on a sharp surface. Use a wrist rest to round any sharp edges and to keep wrists level.
  • Whenever possible, use all your fingers to grasp something (like you might carry a handle of a briefcase) rather than pinching an object between thumb and fingers. If you write quite a bit, use a pen that has a soft material where you grip and is wide enough to prevent a tight pinching grip. You can purchase pen grips to soften and widen the pen. Use the correct pen for the task; don't use a felt tip if you need to make multiple copies.
  • Having the computer screen at a right angle to a window will decrease glare. A desk lamp may help to light the task area without adding glare
  • Keeping the monitor at the correct distance from your eyes (about 20-28 inches) will decrease eyestrain; it is also important to change your focus about every 20 minutes and look at an object about 20 feet away. This exercises the muscles that help you focus.
  • If you wear glasses, make sure the health care provider that prescribes your lenses is aware of the type of reading and computer work that you do. There are lenses available that may make computer work more comfortable for you.
  • Arrange your desk area for maximum comfort: Objects used frequently should be within a comfortable arm's reach (about a foot away) or closer. If you have to reach, try avoiding reaching above your shoulder; this is the most stressful position for the muscles of your shoulder.
  • If you have to lift an object above shoulder level, always use two arms and balance the load.

For More Information

If you want more information about setting up an ergonomic workstation, call Occupational Health Service (4-8021), Les Misher, Safety Coordinator (4-4427) or ask your supervisor about resources available at the Health System.