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Stiff neck? Tingling hands? Shoulder pain? Eye strain? You probably need to “ergonomize” your workstation. Millions of people work with computers every day, whether working, emailing or shopping. Poor posture, lack of proper equipment and poor ergonomic information can cause a lot of distress in a number of different parts of the body. Therefore, it is important to set up an ergonomic workstation design in order to avoid the onset of various musculoskeletal strains and pain. There are several principles to consider, but there is not a single posture or arrangement that will fit everyone.

Avoid existing ergonomic guidelines unless they make scientific sense. Ergonomics should be based on fact, research, experimentation and theory using body mechanics as a baseline. Ergonomics is personal. What works for someone else may not work for you. Therefore, follow these simple “do not” rules:

  • Do not settle for a desk without a keyboard tray or some other way to set the keyboard height and angle correctly.
  • Do not place the keyboard on top of the desk.
  • Do not place the monitor above your head.
  • Do not sit in a rigid upright position or lean forward.
  • Do not work for long periods of time without moving.

Consider these five principles in order to set up your own ergonomic workstation:

Monitor

  • Position the monitor to minimize glare by placing it at a right angle to the light sources or windows.
  • When sitting at your computer, your light source should never be in front of or behind you.
  • Your light source should be to your right or left side.
  • Place the monitor as far away from you as possible while maintaining the ability to read without consciously focusing – keep a minimum distance of 20 inches.
  • Place the center of the screen at a 15 degree down angle from your eyes with your neck only slightly bent holding your head perpendicular to the floor.
  • Align the monitor and the keyboard/mouse.
  • Set the refresh rate at a minimum of 70 Hz to limit flicker.

Lighting

  • Moderately bright lighting is the best.
  • Do not use task lighting for computer work.
  • A mix of incandescent and fluorescent lights reduces flicker and provides good light color.

Keyboard

  • Position the keyboard slightly below the elbow to allow the wrists to remain straight when you sit in a slightly reclined posture.
  • Do not use a wrist rest while actively typing. It’s meant to rest on not to lean on when working.
  • Hold your hands and arms off any supports while typing.
  • Do not tilt the keyboard tray so the back of the keyboard is higher than the front.
  • Though design and a lot of information say you should tilt the keyboard to a positive angle like this, it is wrong.
  • Keep your wrists in a neutral (straight) position. Increasing your wrist flexion or extension is a repetitive stress injury waiting to happen.

Mouse

  • Place the mouse on the same level as the keyboard.
  • Keep the mouse in the arc line of the keyboard so you can reach it when rotating your arm from the elbow.
  • A wrist rest is not recommended as it provides contact stress, which decreases blood flow and your forearm needs to be free to move so you do not strain the wrist.

Chair and posture

  • Use armrests.
  • Place the lumbar support slightly below the waistline.
  • Adjust the height of the chair so your feet can rest completely on the floor.
  • Allow 1 to 2 inches between the edge of the seat and the back of your knees.
  • Use a high back chair that supports your shoulder blades if at all possible.
  • Position your hips so they are slightly higher than your knees while your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Keep your feet moving often or use a footrest.
  • Do not cross your legs or ankles.
  • Lean back slightly. Leaning the trunk slightly back will open up the hips and ease pressure on the pelvis.
  • Make sure the chair back will support your shoulders while providing good lumbar support.

You need to take frequent breaks throughout the day. Frequent breaks help to increase blood flow, keep you productive and keep you from developing musculoskeletal disorders. Changing your position and stretching 10 minutes for every hour of work and 30 second ergo breaks every 10 minutes is a good routine.

If you are interested in a checklist to help ergonomize your workstation, go to www.osha.gov?SLTC/etools/computer workstations/ or contact Dena Kirk at dena.kirk@sih.net.

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Dena Kirk is the Administrative Director for WORKcare.ready.well. If you would like more information, please contact Dena Kirk at 618-993-3817 or email Dena at dena.kirk@sih.net.

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