Ergonomic Guidelines for Computer Workstations

Ergonomics PictureSubmitted by Eti Vainer Herrmann, Occupational Therapist

Ergonomics is thepractice of fitting the job to the worker.
It is concerned with how our environment interacts with our work. It also looks for ways to adjustour environment to decrease the risks of injury and illness, enhance productivity and improve the quality of our work life.

Ergonomics is important for health reasons. When a body works in a way that is not ergonomically friendly, it can create stress through awkward postures, extreme temperatures, or repeated movements. This can lead to discomfort, fatigue, pain, and over time can cause musculoskeletal disorders.

As we all know, being a student or working in a lab requires many hour of sitting in front of the computer. While most people believe it is relaxing, sitting is actually hard on the back because it transfers the full weight of the upper body onto the buttocks and thighs. Sitting, especially for long periods of time, can also cause increased pressure on the intervertebral discs- the springy, shock-absorbing parts of the spine. It’s also hard on the lower extremities since gravity pools blood in the legs and

feet and creates a sluggish return of blood to the heart.

Ergonomics seeks to combat these problems. The easiest and lowest-cost way to improve ergonomics is likely by making improvements to computer work stations.

1.  Elbow measure: Begin by sitting comfortably as close as possible to your desk so that your upper arms are parallel to your spine. Rest your hands on your work surface. If yourelbows are not at a 90-degree angle, adjust your office chairup or down.

2.  Thigh measure: Check that you can easily slide your fingers under your thigh at the leading edge of the office chair. If it is too tight, you need to prop your feet up withan adjustable footrest. If you are unusually tall and there is more than a finger width between your thigh and the chair, you need to raise the desk or work surface so that you canraise the height of your office chair.

3. Calf measure: With your bottom pushed against the chair back, try to pass your clenched fist between the back of your calf and the front of your office chair. If you can’t do that easily, then the office chair is too deep. You will need to adjust the backrest forward, insert lower back support(such as a lumbar support cushion, a pillow or rolled-uptowel), or get a new office chair.

4. Lower back support: Your bottom should be pressed against the back of your chair, and there should be a cushion that causes your lower back to arch slightly so that you don’t slump forward or slouch down in the chair as you tire over time. This low back support in the office chair is essential to minimize the strain on your back.

5. Resting eye level: Having the monitor directly in front of you prevents you from twisting your head and neck while viewing the screen. When you are seated comfortably, your eyes should be in line with a point on the screen about 2 to 3 inches below the top of the monitor casing.

6. Arms while typing: Have the keyboard tilted so your arms remain straight from the forearm through the hand during the typing process, not bent at the wrists.

7. Close environment: Arrange your desk so the items you use most frequently are within easy reach without having to stretch or bend for them.

8. Talking on the phone: Avoid holding the phone with your neck. If you use the phone frequently, consider getting a headset to reduce the stress on your neck muscles.

9. Movement: No matter how comfortable one is in an officechair, prolonged static posture is not good for the back and is a common contributor to back problems.

To avoid keeping the back in one position for a long period, remember to stand, stretch and walk for at least a minute or two every half hour. In general, moving about and stretchingon a regular basis throughout the day will help keep the joints,ligaments, muscles and tendons loose, which promotes an overall feeling of comfort, relaxation and the ability to focus productively.