A Start on Office Ergonomics

A Start on Office Ergonomics

Office ErgonomicsMost of us have some general thoughts about ergonomics, but this information can easily be out-of-date. Fortunately for those involved with making decisions about office furniture and setup current ergonomics encourages variety and movement rather than rigid principles or an exact posture.

Many employers believe that you have to spend a lot of money when buying ergonomic office furniture. This is not necessarily true, and with a little effort and preparation you can make a wise investment that will lead to a happier and healthier team.

Ergonomics is not just a product characteristic. It’s a process of matching furniture to the people doing the work. The aim is to reduce the risk of injury and discomfort without reducing productivity.

Consider the work that’s done by each member of your team. Different tasks require different equipment and different layouts. Consider the nature of the tasks to be done – is there a lot of keyboard work or very little? Will a mouse be used for most of the time? How much time is spent in front of the monitor?

Once you’ve sorted out these details you can start planning your shopping list of furniture and equipment.

What’s the best distance for a computer monitor? Current thinking says it’s as far away as possible while still being able to read it clearly. Longer distances relax the eyes.

As for monitor height, the current recommendation is that eye height is the highest a monitor should be. A low monitor has been found to be more comfortable for the eyes and neck.

Keyboard height doesn’t necessarily have to be at elbow height. Variation from elbow height is fine, especially in the lower-than-elbow direction.

The keyboard doesn’t have to be at the front of the desk as long as the forearms are supported and the elbows aren’t resting on anything hard or sharp. If the keyboard is pushed back the work surface should be higher than elbow height.

Chairs are particularly important when it comes to ergonomic considerations. It use to be thought that the chair should be at a height that allows the feet to reach the floor when the legs are bent 90 degrees at the knee. Although this is not harmful, the legs should move very often and not stay fixed in the 90-degree position.

If the chair is at a good height but the keyboard height can’t be adjusted to elbow height or lower, then it’s necessary to adjust the chair upwards. In this case, a footrest is an option but footrests are not ideal because the feet only have one place to be and leg postures are limited.

Now to posture. Is it really best to have an upright posture, with the hips at ninety degrees? Recent research supports the idea of a much wider hip angle with one hundred thirty degrees or so as an “optimum” angle.

Sitting upright is actually less desirable than reclining. When reclining, the lower back muscles work less and the spine has to support less weight since some of the body weight is held up by the chair’s backrest.

People who stand all day tend to have back problems and so do people who sit still all day. The traditional fifteen minute break every two hours or so isn’t ideal for someone who works at a keyboard all day. Very short breaks done very frequently – for example, 30-second breaks every ten minutes or so, relieve strain on the back from sitting.

Having made the initial assessment, you may start looking for suitable purchases. Focus your attention on:
– furniture with a range of adjustability that can accommodate all prospective users,
– a fully adjustable chair with height-adjustable armrests,
– a desk with height adjustment,
– a footrest if you decide on a non-adjustable desk, and
– monitors and keyboards that can be easily adjusted.

Before you actually purchase your office furniture give your team members a chance to test everything. Having them actively involved in the decision-making process is very important for the selection of furniture and equipment that is suited to them and their work tasks.

Keep in mind that the manufacturer’s claim that its products are “ergonomic” correct is no guarantee of comfort for your team members. When people are correctly matched to their office furniture and equipment the goals of modern ergonomics have been accomplished.