Computer Ergonomics In The Workplace

Is your computer a pain in the neck?

Here’s how to take the pain out of computer work (at least some of it!).

Computer Ergonomics

ergonomics workplaceAlmost everyone works with a computer these days.

I’ll bet you’re sitting in front on one now!!

You may think that you have to work in a factory or on a loading dock to severely injure yourself on the job, but office work can be just as hazardous.

An awkward posture while keyboarding, poorly positioned equipment, or just sitting in the same position for hours can cause  eyestrain, pain and injury to your wrists, hands, arms, back and neck.

Continually repeating movements with your wrist and  hands increase the odds of repetitive strain injury (rsi), for instance, fastening the same part on an assembly line  all-day or typing at a computer.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration surveys show that each year more than 600,000 workers take disability leave as a result of the various repetitive strain injuries that happen in offices.

Injuries range from minor strains to more serious, which require operations. We’ve all heard about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!

Ergonomics, also known as human engineering, is the scientific discipline of designing machines, products, and systems to fit the limitations of the human body in order to maximize the safety, comfort, and efficiency of the people who use them.

The science tries to fit the work to the limitations of the human body instead of humans having to work in a position to fit the machines!

The word is a combination of the Greek word for work, “ergon” and economics. Some say the second part of the word is from the Greek “nomoi” meaning natural laws.

Want to keep comfortable and injury free while working on a computer? Most injuries can easily be prevented if you follow these steps.

These guidelines are also good to follow for other activities like driving, sitting at meetings, while traveling in an airplane, etc.

Let’s take driving for example. Where should you put your hands on the steering wheel? The “ten and two o’clock” positions were standard, but now we know that the “seven and nine o’clock” spots are better. Lower hand position helps not overcorrect during an emergency maneuver, which often causes spins, slides, and rollovers.

By keeping your upper arms closer to your sides and your forearms slightly bent, your shoulders and back will be less fatigued. And most important, the lower position is safer  if the air bag deploys. Higher hands can be propelled into your face or the side window often breaking your arms!

Get your ducks and computer equipment lined up in a row!

Be brave and face your work straight on! Align the keyboard, mouse and monitor or video display terminal (VDT) so that you are looking directly ahead.

It’s a common mistake to place the monitor at the side of your keyboard, at an angle. Make sure you do not have to turn your head or body at an angle to work.

This keeps your neck and the rest of your body  looking straight ahead and helps you avoid turning your head from side-to-side  which can cause eye, neck and shoulder muscle strain.

The Mouse

Avoid this trap!

ergonomics computer mouseThe mouse should be located adjacent to and at the same level as the keyboard.  Stretching your arm to operate the  mouse can lead to muscle strain.  Keep your elbow close to your body when manipulating the mouse.

Also use a soft touch, don’t death grip the mouse.  Think of it as alive and hold it lightly rather than gripping or squeezing.

Screen Star

The height of the VDT should be adjusted so that the top of the screen is level with or slightly below your eye level (sit up straight!).  You can set the VDT on a telephone book or adjust your chair.

Keep your eyes about 18-26″ from screen to avoid eyestrain.

Sit on it

Adjust your chair seat height so that there is a straight line from your elbows to the keyboard and mouse.  Your arms should fall comfortably straight down at your sides with your elbows bent comfortably at 90 degrees, and with your forearms horizontal and your wrists perfectly straight when you use the mouse and keyboard.

It’s important to make sure you don’t need to bend  your wrists to reach the keys.  Your wrists should be straight, not angled up,  or down or to the side.  This is called a neutral position, where the forearms,  wrists and hands are in a straight line.

If your wrists are flexed or extended, the nerves,  muscles and tendons that support your wrist and hands become tense and strained.   A wrist-rest may be helpful in reminding you to keep those wrists straight.

Most chairs are adjustable now, but you may have to be a chair engineer to figure them out.  Look for instructions and fiddle with the controls until you find out what they adjust.   Your hips and knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle.


ergonomics seat adjustmentAdjust your seat back so it provides support for your lower back.

Avoid resting elbows, forearms or wrists on hard surfaces or sharp edges.

Don’t reach and stretch unnecessarily for your work tools such as telephone, mouse and       reference materials. Instead, place everything within easy reach so reaching becomes unnecessary.

Posture Perfect

You mother may have known best when she told you to “sit up straight”!  Sitting upright helps you avoid straining your back.

Your head should also be upright and your shoulders relaxed. Keep your head directly over your shoulders without straining forward or backward. Keep your elbows relaxed, at about right angles.

Make sure you sit far enough back in your chair seat so that you’re getting the needed support on your  lower back. The ideal vposture is sitting straight in your chair, muscles relaxed with you body tilted slightly back.  Your body position will affect the position of your wrist and hands.

Get a leg up

If your forearms and wrists are straight at the keyboard/mouse level, but your feet don’t touch the floor, you’ll need a footrest.  Keep your feet on the ground! A box or thick book will work.  This will help relieve stain to the lower back.

Make sure you have ample room under your desk, and work space so that your legs and knees are not bumping into your desk or other furniture.

You’re our type

While typing, keep your wrists in a straight or neutral position, not flexed or bent. Be aware of the pressure you use to hit the keys on the keyboard, and lighten up!  Using minimum force while striking the keys will avoid wrist discomfort and prolong the life of your keyboard.  As you type, relax your fingers and keep them slightly curved.

Your wrists should not rest on anything while typing, but wrist-rests are good for support when you’re not typing, and they are an excellent reminder to keep your wrists straight when you type.

Plagiarizing?

If you must copy or read a document while you work, try to place it as near the screen (same height and angle) as possible to avoid the neck stain of looking up and down while you work.  A copy stand (document holder) will help.

The Eyes have it

People are easily mesmerized by the computer screen and forget to blink!  Give your eyes a break by closing them momentarily, looking away from your monitor to focus on something in the distance, and blinking frequently.   Dry eyes can make you feel tired, and blinking keeps them lubricated and moist. If blinking alone doesn’t help, use eye drops for additional moisture.

If you wear corrective lenses, you may need a different prescription to use when you work at the computer.

The focal distance between the eyes and the display screen is different than normal corrections for near or far sightedness.  Your optometry professional can help you with single vision lens with an appropriate focal distance (usually 22 inches).

It’s not nice to glare

Avoid glaring error, at least on the screen by tilting the screen to a more vertical position, reducing lighting levels in the room or setting up your workstation so that you don’t have a window opposite the screen. Adjust window shades or blinds to reduce glare on your monitor screen.   If you still have glare, try using a glare screen.

Maintain appropriate light levels for specific tasks. More illumination is usually needed to read a document than a computer screen. If you use an individual desk lamp, be sure the placement of your lamp doesn’t create glare or reflections on your screen.

Adjust screen brightness and contrast on your computer screen to a comfortable level.

Clean the computer screen and other surfaces regularly with a monitor screen cleaner and a lint-free cloth to remove dust and improve visual clarity.

It’s for you

Avoid holding the telephone between your neck and shoulder.  If phone use is frequent, use a headset instead of a handset.

You deserve a break

ergonomics computerThe most important thing you can do is to take frequent breaks, at least 5 minutes every hour, to move your body, stand up, stretch, do something else for a while.

You body can’t take sitting for long – it’s an unnatural act!   So every hour, get up and move around, stretch, walk down the hall, and look out a window to relax your eyes.   You can tell your boss people who take breaks every hour are actually more efficient, get more work done and won’t be off with an injury!

Listen to your body.  Pain is a natural warning signal that something is wrong.  Don’t ignore it.

Take a clue from athletes who always warm up before sports and do some stretching exercises before you start work and throughout the workday.

Tension releasing exercises

Neck 

  1. Slowly tilt head as far to the left as possible, then to the right…repeat 3 times.
  2. Slowly tilt head forward until the chin rests on the chest…hold for 5 seconds…repeat 3 times.
  3. Slowly tilt head as far back as possible…hold for 5 seconds…repeat 3 times.
  4. Slowly turn head as far left as possible…then forward, then to the right…repeat 3 times.

Shoulders

  1. Roll shoulders forward in a circle, the bigger the circle, the better the result…do 5 rotations…then do 5 backward rotations.
  2. Extend both arms out wide, slowly stretch them toward your back, squeezing the shoulder blades together…then slowly bring your arms forward and touch the back of your hands together in front of you…repeat 3 times.

Back

  1. Sit upright, place both hands behind your head, slowly stretch your torso backwards and hold for three counts…then bend all the way forwards stretching your arms toward the floor in front of you…repeat three times.
  2. Sit upright, rotate your pelvis forward and hold for 5 counts, then rotate the pelvis backwards, pressing against your chair and hold for 5 counts.
  3. While seated, grab your left shin with both hands and slowly pull your leg to the body and hold for 5 counts…repeat 3 times then repeat with right leg.

Legs and Feet

  1. Slowly rotate your left ankle 3 times to the left, then 3 times to the right…repeat with right ankle.
  2. Slowly stretch your left foot upwards as far as possible…hold for 3 counts…then downwards for 3 counts…repeat 3 times…then repeat with right foot.

Elbows

Place your elbows at your sides, with your forearms out in front of you with your palms up…without moving your elbows, bring your hands up to your shoulders…then slowly down again until forearms are extended…repeat 5 times…then repeat with palms down.

Wrists

Stretch your arms out in front of you, parallel to the floor; bend your hands backwards at the wrist slowly as far as possible and hold…repeat 5 times…then 5 times  downwards.

Fingers and Wrists

  1. Make tight fists with your hands,  slowly open and stretch the hand as wide as you can and hold for 3 counts…repeat 3 times.
  2. Grip object (tennis ball, arm of your chair, desk edge, etc.) tightly…then relax…repeat 3 times.
  3. Give hands a good “shake” after exercises and periodically while working them hard.
  4. Place right thumb in left hand and use middle finger to massage the spots behind and between the knuckles on the left hand…(3 places for 4 fingers)…then use right thumb to massage the base of the left thumb…switch hands and repeat.
  5. Massage each finger slowly working from the knuckle towards the fingertip.

 Eyes

  1. Place both elbows on a flat surface (i.e. desk) in front of you…rest the heel of your palms on your cheekbones and cup your hands over your eyes so that no light gets through…do not apply any pressure on the eyes themselves…inhale slowly through your nose…exhale slowly through the mouth…repeat several times…
  2. Close eyes tightly for 5 seconds…open them as wide as you can…hold for 5 seconds…repeat 3 times.
  3. Hold your index finger 6 inches from your eyes and focus on it…slowly move your finger to arms length maintaining focus…move your finger off to the side and focus on something as far away as possible…then back to the finger…and slowly bring the finger back to 6 inches away…all the time maintaining focus…repeat 3 times.
  4. Keeping your eyes closed and your head still, slowly look upward…then straight ahead…then upward again…do this 3 times…then 3 times downwards…then as far left as possible…straight ahead…far right…straight…repeat 3 times.

— Andy Gilchrist

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