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Practical office ergonomics

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Although the term “ergonomics” has become popular in recent years, many still don't know what ergonomics is.

What is ergonomics?

A simple explanation is that ergonomics is a practice seeking to provide comfortable, easy-to-use equipment, devices, and activities for people of all shapes and sizes. The dictionary defines ergonomics as:

"A practice concerned with the characteristics of people that need to be considered in designing and arranging things that they use, so that people and things will interact effectively and safely."

Computer comfort

At a computer, the key to comfort is making sure the body remains in a relaxed, natural position, whenever feasible. Computer-related tasks shouldn't force the user to work for prolonged periods of time with muscles and tendons held under noticeable tension. A good work position at a computer is to have the arms hanging relaxed from the shoulders and bent into right angles at the elbows. Also, while keyboarding, the user should try to work with the hands held in a straight line with the forearm and the elbows kept close to the body.

Chair adjustments

Good computer workstation ergonomics begins with having an adjustable chair that supports the lower region of the back. Preferably, the seat back should be movable independently from the seat pan, so that the user can lean backward slightly at the hip and change the pelvic angle often. The chair should also be adjusted so that the feet are flat on the floor, or nearly so. If needed a footrest should be obtained and used.

The workstation should have enough clearance underneath it to allow the user to move around freely without noticeably bumping into things. Space underneath the workstation should not be used as a storage area.

Proper location of the keyboard and mouse

The keyboard and mouse should be located so that good posture can be maintained with a minimum of reaching. Normally, the mouse should be located close to and on the same work surface as the keyboard. An adjustable keyboard platform attached to the underside of the work surface may be necessary in some cases.

Stand up and stretch

Finally, regardless of the workstation, computer users should stand up and stretch occasionally during the day. The human body is not designed for sedentary work and it needs frequent movement and exercise for good health.

Twelve keys for comfort

Using the following 12 steps will help you find the best adjustment of your workstation:

Suggestions for workstation adjustment

  1. Position the chair so that it supports the back, with the feet flat on the floor or footrest, without pressure behind the knees
  2. Place the working material within easy reach, to avoid the tiring effect of working with the arms extended forward.
  3. Locate the monitor so that the top of the screen is at or just slightly below eye level.
  4. Position the arms so that they are relaxed and comfortable when keying. To achieve this, the upper arm should be parallel to the torso and the forearm should be parallel to the floor.
  5. In addition to #4, position the chair and keyboard so that keying can be performed without extending the arms too far forward.
  6. While keying, try to position the hands so that flexion and extension of the wrist are avoided, as much as possible.
  7. Position the mouse so that it can be easily reached and operated, without overextending the forearm. Let go of the mouse frequently, in order to minimize stress in the wrist and forearm.
  8. When possible, position the screen at a right angle to windows, in order to minimize glare. The screen may also be repositioned slightly, either up or down or to the right or left, to reduce glare. A screen hood also helps to eliminate glare when monitors are placed below overhead lights. Glare screens should be avoided.
  9. Adjust the contrast and brightness of the screen to a comfortable level.
  10. Use a document holder for positioning source documents, whenever engaged in long periods of data entry.
  11. Blink often to prevent the eyes from drying out. Look away from the terminal and refocus the eyes occasionally.
  12. Stand up and stretch frequently, and change the sitting position often throughout the day. Take mini-breaks frequently in order to minimize the tiring effects of working without resting.
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