Ergonomics may prevent musculoskeletal injuries (such as back strain or carpal tunnel syndrome) by reducing physical and mental stress caused by the workstation setup. By focusing on the physical setup of your workstation and the tools you use, you can reduce your chances of injuries. It also is important to evaluate the work process, including job organization, worker rotation, task variety, and demands for speed and quality.
Working intensely over long periods of time without taking breaks can greatly increase your risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Taking regular breaks from your work and doing stretching exercises may reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries. Try taking 3- to 5-minute breaks-or changing tasks-every 20 to 40 minutes.
To improve your workstation:
- Arrange your work so you can sit or stand comfortably in a position that does not put stress on any specific area of your body. You should be able to keep your neck in a neutral position and minimize the need to look up or to the sides continuously while you are working.
- Eliminate most movement from your waist. Keep the workstation and workstation tools within reach without having to lean, bend, or twist at the waist frequently.
- Vary postures if possible.
- Take 10- to 15-second breaks frequently throughout your task. For example, look away from your computer monitor, stand up, or stretch your arms. Short breaks reduce eyestrain and buildup of muscle tension.
- Stretch your body by getting up out of your chair and stretching your arms, shoulders, back, and legs. When you are sitting, shrug and relax your shoulders.
If you do similar work or activities at home, be sure to apply these principles there as well to avoid the cumulative effect of repetitive motions.
To improve your workstation , choose workstation tools that fit your personal physical and comfort needs, such as:
- A desk or work surface:
- Large enough to accommodate papers, reference manuals, and other workstation tools, but arranged properly to access items easily.
- At a height that allows enough space for your knees and thighs to comfortably fit under the desk.
- That is not shiny.
- A computer monitor that is:
- Clear and easy for you to see without leaning forward or looking up or to one side.
- At a height where the top of the screen is at eye level or within 15 degrees below eye level.
- Less than an arm's length away from you.
- Protective against eyestrain, which may lead to vision problems and headaches. For example, glare guards are available either as part of the monitor or to be placed over the monitor screen. Plasma screens also have less glare than other monitors.
- A chair that maintains normal spinal curvature. A supportive chair:
- Is adjustable, so that you can set the height to rest your feet flat on the floor. Keep your feet supported on the floor or on a footrest to reduce pressure on your lower back. Some people like to sit in a slightly reclined position because it puts less stress on the back, although this may increase stress on the shoulders and neck when you reach for items.
- Supports your lower back.
- Has adjustable armrests that allow your elbows to stay close to your sides. If you are not comfortable with armrests, move them out of your way. It is still important to keep your arms close to your sides even if you choose not to use armrests.
- Has a breathable, padded seat.
- Rolls on five wheels for easy movement without tipping.
- A computer keyboard and keyboard tray that allow comfortable typing or keying.
- Your keyboard should be at a height that allows your elbows to be bent about 90 degrees and close to your sides.
- There are many variations for keyboard design, including split, curved, or rotated keyboards. Studies have not proved that these reduce injuries. But some people find them to be more comfortable. If you notice hand, arm, or neck discomfort, your employer may have different keyboard styles for you to try. Different people find different styles work best for them.
- Many keyboards and keyboard trays have wrist supports to help keep your wrists in a neutral, almost straight position. But wrist pads are just there for brief rests. They are not meant to be used while you are typing. But some people find they help even during keying. When you type, try raising your wrists from the support so your wrists are in a neutral position. You may want to alternate between resting your wrists on the supports and raising them up.
- You can adjust the tilt of the keyboard. Some people find it more comfortable if the keyboard is flat or tilted slightly down at the top. Try different tilt angles to see what is most comfortable for you.
- A computer mouse or pointing device that does not require a lot of forearm movement or force, such as a trackball mouse or touch pad, is more comfortable than a standard mouse for some people. Other types of pointing devices are also available. See a picture of proper hand and wrist position for mouse and trackball use for examples.
- A document holder that holds your papers level with your computer monitor, so that as you look back and forth between paper and monitor, your eyes do not need to continually refocus.
- A comfortable room temperature, a relatively quiet area, and sufficient lighting without glare from office lights, sunlight, or the computer screen.
- A telephone headset or speaker phone, so you avoid awkward positions while talking and doing other tasks, such as typing.
- A location for any reference manuals that is close to the center of your workstation, for easy access.
Many people use laptop computers as secondary workstations. You should not use a laptop as your primary computer. Using a docking station that provides an adjustable keyboard can help keep your wrists in a neutral position to reduce stress and strain. If you use a laptop often, try the following to improve ergonomic factors:
- Take 10- to 15-second breaks often throughout your task. For example, look away from your computer monitor, stand up, or stretch your arms. Short breaks reduce eyestrain and the buildup of muscle tension.
- Keep your head and neck in a neutral position and about 18 to 30 inches away from the monitor screen.
- Position the keyboard so that it is at elbow height, and try to keep your wrists relatively straight and your fingers slightly curved while you are working. You may need to use a pillow under your elbows to support your arms if you are sitting on a couch or chair while keying.
- Use an external mouse instead of the small touch pad or trackball that is on the laptop keyboard.
- When you have to carry your laptop with you:
- Carry only what you need with you.
- Use a carrying case with a padded strap and handle. Backpacks with two straps are the best. If you use a case with one strap, it's best to put the strap over the opposite shoulder to help distribute the load you are carrying, or to switch hands regularly.
- Use a luggage cart with wheels when possible.
Parents can apply all these ideas when children use a computer. To adjust a workstation for a child, you may want to:
- Make sure the seat is high enough so your child can see the monitor without looking up and so your child's shoulders are relaxed when he or she types. You may want to have your child sit on a thick book, a firm pillow, or a booster seat.
- Use a footstool (or a thick book or a backpack) to support your child's feet if they don't rest comfortably on the floor.
- Use a firm pillow behind your child's back to scoot him or her toward the front of the chair.
- Adjust the keyboard and mouse or other input device to keep your child's wrists straight.
- Avoid glare on the monitor screen.