Nearly every office worker can relate to having a sore back from remaining stationary all day, or wrist pain from typing and using a mouse. These are common symptoms of repetitive movements and poor office ergonomics. So what do good office ergonomics look like and why are they important?
Ergonomics is the study of how people work in their environment. It’s a scientific discipline as there are professional ergonomists that study short and long term effects on the human body.
Getting it wrong can lead to pain from work. Getting office ergonomics right is simple with a few easy tips. Let’s review some easy ways to implement ergonomics to reduce the bodily strain in the office.
Chairs: Position & Posture
Most office employees spend a lot of their day sitting down as you’d expect. In the U.S., the typical person sits for over half of the day. For many office workers, they remain seated for an overwhelming 15 hours a day. Office ergonomics for these employees should foster a neutral sitting position with no angles that cause stress on the body.
Office chairs should have multiple parts which can be adjusted to the worker. The greater level of adjustment, the better. The backrest should have lumbar support to support the lower back. The height of the seat should accommodate employees with varying heights, while feet should remain flat on the floor. Thighs should rest on the seat parallel to the ground, while the chair should have a rounded edge which doesn’t cut into them. Five castor wheels on the chair’s base will grant it more stability for the worker. When it comes to armrests, they’re more of a personal preference. If opting for them, ensure that they are adjustable.
Despite being a popular trend, don’t settle with exercise or stability balls as a substitute for a good quality office chair. Modern studies suggest that increased muscle activation in the spine and abnormal pelvic tilt while sitting on an exercise ball for long durations decreases comfort, and promotes poor office ergonomics.
Keyboard, Mouse & Key Objects
Having your keyboard and mouse within easy reach is an office ergonomics staple. Keep both instruments on the same surface. It’s important to have your hands at or slightly below your elbows while keeping your wrists straight. A good tip to know if you’re keyboard is in the right position is if the “gh” keys are aligned with your belly button. Using your mouse frequently can cause wrist strain. Familiarize yourself with common keyboard shortcuts and use them instead when possible. Setting up your keyboard and mouse properly can prevent office injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
Other key objects that are used frequently should be within comfortable reach and not break the neutral resting position for optimal office ergonomics. Common office key object examples are a stapler, a notebook, a telephone, or any other work material used throughout the day. Standing up rather than reaching while sitting will reduce strain if the key object is far away.
Desk Design in Office Ergonomics
Desk design plays an important role in office ergonomics. If the desk is poorly designed for ergonomics it can be painful as employees will sit in strained positions for hours. Ensure the desk has legroom and adequate, adjustable height so knees can be comfortably tucked under it. For lower, non adjustable desks, putting blocks or boards under it can increase the height safely. If the desk is too high, then the chair can be raised to accommodate it, along with a footrest if needed. If the desk isn’t rounded, a soft gel pad on the desk’s surface can help if the desk has a solid straight edge.
Monitor position is important for working on computers. The monitor should be about an arm’s length away. If your monitor has a tilt feature, make sure to use it and tilt the monitor back slightly. The top of the screen should be eye level or slightly below. If the height cannot be adjusted, try stacking books or using a monitor stand to raise it to the appropriate level.
For workers using laptops, a dedicated laptop stand or a small stack of sturdy textbooks can reach the optimal height.
The Role of Ambiance in Office Ergonomics
Workspace ambience is the most flexible aspect of office ergonomics. Consider a few of the five human senses: sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. In an office, this can translate to the lighting, ambient sounds or music, office textures, and air circulation. This is a very subjective aspect for employees. For example, heavier music with lyrics might distract certain employees that prefer soft, instrumental music to be productive.
Some strong scents and air fresheners may be off putting to some. Acknowledging this and choosing a more neutral scent may be a better option. Allowing employees to choose what type of ambience they prefer, by allowing headphones, indoor plants, and a custom desk appearance can provide the preferable office ambience for everyone while avoiding distractions and strain.