An ergonomic workplace is essential for the health and wellbeing of all workers. Aching backs, carpal-tunneled wrists and other ailments lead to employee discontent, an increase in sick days and overall lower productivity. Good ergonomic practices in the workplace doesn’t just mean moving a few things around to avoid hazards, or buying an expensive office chair. In this article I will provide a complete guide on how to improve office ergonomics to make your workplace healthier and more productive. I will also provide some tips and highlight potential risk factors.
According to a report published by MedicalBrief, low back pain is a leading cause of disability‚ affecting an estimated 540 million people worldwide at any one time. Evidence suggests that low back pain should be managed in primary care‚ with the first line of treatment being education and advice to keep people active and at work.
1. Improving ergonomics in the workplace – Adjusting your OFFICE CHAIR
For office workers, an ergonomic chair is the most essential item in the workplace. Adjusting your chair to the correct position is critical to avoid common posture-related hazards, and is the first step to improving the overall ergonomic setup in your place of work. What does a cheap office chair REALLY cost me?
If your chair is not correctly adjusted, it can place additional stress on your spine and may result in MSD (Musculoskeletal Disorders).
Your chair is the most important piece of equipment in your office. Adjusting your chair correctly is the first step to improving the ergonomics in your workplace.
1.1 Adjusting your chair
2. Improving ergonomics in the workplace – Adjusting your DESK
Your desk is the second most important piece of equipment in your office. With so much emphasis on the correct office chair setup, people often neglect the proper ergonomic setup of their desk and other equipment in their place of work. The incorrect configuration of your desk, computer and ancillary equipment, can contribute to stress at work, poor posture and other long-term health issues.
Once you have setup your chair, move it towards your desk. If you are working on a computer, your desk should be at about elbow height.
The desk is at the correct height when your elbows are bent at approximately 900 and your forearms are resting on the surface of the desk. Your forearms will now be parallel to the floor.
If your hands are on the surface of the desk and forearms are NOT parallel to the floor, then your elbows cannot be at 900. If your elbows are bent at less than 900, then the desk is too high. Conversely, if your elbows are bent at more than 900, your desk is too low. What is the correct height for my desk, computer monitor and office chair?
2.1 Height adjustable desks can improve ergonomics in the workplace
In conjunction with your chair, for the best ergonomic practices in the workplace, use a height adjustable desk. Whether gas, manually or electrically actuated, these desks allow you to adjust the height of your work surface to an ergonomically correct position. Most importantly, they also enable you to alternate between sitting and standing while you work.
Remaining in one position for long periods, be it sitting or standing, will have a negative effect on your overall health.
2.1.1 Useful tips when using a height adjustable desk
2.1.2 Advantages of alternating between sitting and standing while you work
2.1.3 Negative effects of sitting too long
2.1.4 Negative effects of standing too long
2.2. The working area on your desk
The way you arrange your keyboard, monitor, mouse and other ancillary equipment on your desk, can have a huge impact on your posture and wellbeing. Even with the correct desk and chair setup, you may still experience discomfort in the neck and shoulders. This is often as a result of excessive leaning, twisting or over-reaching for items on your desk.
2.2.1 Working Zones can improve ergonomics in the workplace
Your frequently used equipment and documents should be placed within your Inner Zone (regular and occasional work area). Your regular work area is the most important area as it is the closest to your body and within easy reach. This is where the keyboard and mouse should be placed.
If you constantly use your phone, place it in the Regular work area or use a headset. Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.
Items that are not used regularly should be placed in the occasional work area. These items should still be within reach when your arm is extended but without having to lean over.
To prevent over reaching and stretching, avoid placing items that you use often in the Outer Zone (non-working area).
Place your document holder between your keyboard and monitor. The ideal position is directly below your screen to prevent unnecessary bending of your neck.
3. Improving ergonomics in the workplace – using your KEYBOARD, MOUSE and MONITOR
The keyboard should be flat on the desk, although some people prefer a slightly angled keyboard. Try different angles to find the most comfortable position for you. Ensure that your wrists remain in a neutral position to reduce fatigue and potential injury. Move the keyboard close to the front of the desk.
Do not place documents between the keyboard and the front edge of the desk as this increases the reach distance to the keyboard.
Place your mouse as close as possible to the keyboard to minimize forward or side reach. Remember to maintain a 900 elbow angle. Maintain a straight wrist position when you are using the mouse.
The fine movement of the hand, fingers and thumb repeated for hours on end can cause repetitive strain injury (RSI). A mouse that fits your hand poorly can cause thumb tendinitis.
3.3.1 Single monitor setup
3.3.2 Dual monitor setup
Your primary monitor (the one you use most frequently), should be centred directly in front of you, and the secondary monitor should be placed slightly off centre and at the same height and distance as the primary monitor. If both monitors are used equally, place them side by side at the same height with the inner edges touching.
4. Using a Laptop
Improving ergonomics in the workplace would not be complete without a discussion on laptops. Laptops were originally designed for short-term and mobile use, but are now commonly used as a primary computer. If you use a laptop continuously, you can reduce the stress in your neck and shoulders by:
5. Health risks
5.1 Other factors to consider when setting up your monitor
Recognising the importance of ergonomics in the workplace is the first step in creating a beneficial environment for the health and wellbeing of every employee.
Best ergonomic practices always begin with your chair followed by your desk. Your chair is the single most important piece of equipment in your office. Adjust it correctly!
For greater overall comfort, adjust the ambient temperature to about 250C. Lastly, to enhance the mood in your office, add some of your own stuff like photos, plants and music, as it creates a sense of identity!
Published: 20 December 2020
Author: Ronel Hendry
Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd