by Natalie Decker
Many factors impact your career performance and creativity. Your ergonomic set-up is an important one that comes into play every day. Ergonomics is the study of people in their work environment, and an ergonomic review is essential for designing work settings so that they best fit the person performing tasks. The main considerations are safety, ease of use, productivity, comfort, and aesthetics. The following ergonomic pointers will help you to adjust your set-up to prevent repetitive strain injuries (RSI) such as carpal tunnel syndrome and musculo-skeletal disorders such as low back pain and shoulder bursitis.
There are general rules that apply to your space, regardless of where you are working. Most office spaces have standard furniture with common desk heights. A universally adjustable chair allows you to change seat height, seat depth, and armrest position. When you’re sitting in a chair, your feet should be flat on the floor, your arms at a 90-degree angle at the elbow, and your legs at a 90-degree angle at the hip. Your eyes should be level with the top toolbar, and the computer screen at arm’s length away from you. If you use two screens, place them side by side, with edges touching, angled slightly toward you. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor an extra one to two inches for easier viewing. If using a laptop, place it on a laptop riser to meet the correct observation height, then use an external keyboard. Use a comfortable wrist rest for cushioning while keying, along with a mouse pad. Several different mouse styles are available, in case the typical one is not comfortable.
If phone calls are part of your role, avoid cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder. Instead, use a headset or earbuds. A 20/20/20 rule recommends that every 20 minutes, you look at something approximately 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows the eye muscles to rest, decreasing strain. Periodically cupping your hands over the eyes is also refreshing.
The workspace may be quite different in your own home. If you work at the kitchen table, apply the 90-degree rules and screen position explained above. If you sit on a wooden chair, add a cushion. To optimize back support, use a small rectangular pillow or a rolled towel that fits the hollow lumbar area of the back. Your feet shouldn’t dangle, so if the chair is not adjustable, use a footstool or stacked books. A folded facecloth can be a wrist rest. When you are writing or reviewing documents, work somewhere (such as in front of a bookcase shelf) that allows you to stand as an alternative to being seated.
Most hotel rooms have a desk; however, the chair may not be adjustable. You can switch it with an ottoman if the seated height is better than that of the chair. Another great option is to use an ironing board as a desk: it can be adjusted to allow an appropriate standing posture while you click away at your keyboard or write notes.
With a comfortable workspace and regular breaks, you enhance your body’s blood flow. This increases your mental focus, thus improving your overall productivity. Working in an ergonomically efficient way sets you up for success!
Natalie Decker is a subject matter expert on occupational health and wellness and the owner of Decker Consulting—Occupational Health, Safety & Wellness. She holds a nationally recognized occupational OHS designation as a certified occupational health nurse (COHN) and an OHS certification from the College of the North Atlantic. She also has a master’s in employment relations (MER) from Memorial University of Newfoundland.
With 27 years of diverse experience and expertise, Natalie provides a comprehensive range of services, including risk mitigation, health promotion, mental health first-aid training, medical surveillance, injury and illness management, bio-screening clinics, ergonomics, and disability management.