Ergonomics is the science of fitting the workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population. The goal of ergonomics is to ensure a comfortable work place and to improve both health and productivity. To meet these goals, the capabilities and limitations of workers and their tools, equipment and furniture are considered in conjunction with how they relate to particular tasks.
Workers who must repeat the same motion throughout their workday, who must do their work in an awkward position, who must use a great deal of force to perform their jobs, who must repeatedly lift heavy objects or who face a combination of these risk factors are most likely to develop work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD's).
The term WMSD's refers to disorders to which the work environment and the performance of work contribute significantly. Common examples are jobs requiring repetitive, forceful, or prolonged awkward postures. Jobs or working conditions presenting multiple risk factors will have a higher probability of causing a musculoskeletal problem.
How Do I Eliminate Ergonomic Risk Factors While Working at my Computer Workstation?
There are many potential ergonomic risk factors that can be easily overlooked when working at your computer workstation. Examples may include the position of your mouse and keyboard, the height and location of your monitor, the amount of support your chair provides, or the amount of light provided to your workstation. Problems such as muscle aches, eyestrain, tendonitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome could arise if you are improperly working at your computer workstation.
The following suggestions are provided to help you avoid problems while working at your computer workstation:
Your chair is the most important part of your computer workstation. Your chair should offer a great deal of adjustability to ensure that it fits you properly. When you are seated in your chair you should be able to sit all the way back against the back rest and still have a couple of inches of space between the back of your legs and the front edge of the seat. The height of the chair should allow you to keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle while using the keyboard. In addition, your feet should rest firmly on the floor or footrest, which keeps your body in a neutral position. Other desirable features of an office chair are a 5-prong wheelbase, a "scrolled" seat edge that does not cut into the back of leg, and a rough textured seat material to prevent undesirable sliding.
Maintain a neutral posture while using your keyboard and mouse. Keep your arms comfortably at your sides, elbows should be bent at approximately 90 degrees, forearms should be kept parallel to the floor, knees slightly below hips, and wrists straight. (See diagram)
Use a wrist rest only in between periods of typing. Wrist rests may be used to protect wrists and palms from hard or sharp edges and to help keep the wrists in a neutral position. However, resting wrists on a wrist rest while keying can put pressure on nerves and should be avoided. Wrist rests should be made of soft but supporting material and be the same height as the front edge of the keyboard.
The top of your viewing screen should be adjusted to eye level. This will keep your head and neck in a neutral posture. You may have to tilt your monitor vertically or swivel horizontally to achieve the best viewing angle.
Monitors should be placed at a distance of 18-30 inches away from you.
A good rule of thumb is to place your monitor at approximately arms length. However, this is just an estimation and the exact location will depend your particular situation. Try to find a comfortable distance, which means, you do not have to squint or lean your head forward or back to read what is on screen.
Place your monitor directly in front of you. Your screen should be easily viewed so that you do not have to twist your head to the side or tilted it up or down regularly. Documents should be at the same height and distance as the screen, (usually a document holder attached to the computer monitor works best). Placing a document in front of you can cause eyestrain, because the eye muscles must continuously refocus as you shift from the screen to the paper and back again.
Place your monitor in a location that will prevent glare. Computer glare can cause squinting and be a source of eyestrain. To prevent glare, the monitor and keyboard should be perpendicular to windows and between (not directly under) overhead lights. Anti-glare screens may also be useful in reducing unwanted glare. Screen contrast and brightness should be easily adjustable and screen characters should be clearly displayed, neither wavy nor flickering.
Utilize this diagram in conjunction with the recommendations provided to obtain the correct ergonomic positioning at your own computer workstation.
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Safety and Health Topic: Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders
- U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) - Computer Workstations
- Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Organization