When we imagine the types of employees who get workplace injuries, we often think of those who exert a lot of physical energy. While it’s true that employees in these work environments may be at greater risk for injury, office workers are also at risk.
Unfortunately, many office jobs require that we perform repetitive motions to fulfill our duties. For this reason, Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s) are the most common injuries occurring in the office. Positioning the body in unnatural positions can put strain on areas such as the wrist and spine.
Our physical differences are endless, yet many of our workstations look exactly alike. We spend several hours a day sitting at them; why not make them fit us? Avoiding discomfort and possible injury could be as easy as making a few simple adjustments to your work environment.
Generally, the work surface should be about the height of the elbows when the arms are hanging straight down while seated. When customizing your work surface:
- Keep frequently used items close at hand. Move the telephone closer to you or place frequently-used binders on your desk rather than on an overhead shelf.
- Free your work area from clutter by removing unnecessary files and office supplies, have only what you need. Your legs should be allowed to move freely underneath the desk.
- Adjust the height of your chair so your knees are at right angles when you are seated.
- The space between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knee should be the span of two or three fingers. This will minimize pressure on the underside of your leg.
- Adjust the lumbar support so it rests in the small of your back.
- While seated, bend your elbows to 90 degrees and relax the shoulders. If your armrests do not allow for this position, do not use them while keying or using the mouse. If armrests are too high or too low, have them removed or get a new chair without armrests.
- Avoid sitting for long periods of time by alternating between sitting and standing, or simply get up and stretch. Aim to move your back, neck and shoulders at least every 10 minutes.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor and lean into the backrest at all times. Consider using a footrest if necessary.
- Monitors should be directly in front of you at about arms length.
- The top line of text on the screen should be at eye level, most of the text will be slightly below eye level.
- To avoid eyestrain, focus on something farther away (e.g. a clock 20 ft. away) for a few seconds every hour. Tilt your monitor down if glare is noted on the screen.
- Position your keyboard so your wrists are straight when elbows are at 90 degrees. Adjust your chair height or your keyboard platform to do this.
- Elbows should be kept as close to the body as possible with wrists relaxed and straight.
- Use the keyboard instead of the mouse to perform computer commands whenever possible and learn the shortcuts for your operating system so you minimize wrist strain.
- Position the mouse at the same height as the keyboard. Keep it within easy reach.
- Keep a light grip on the mouse, moving it with the whole arm, and initiating movements from the shoulder.
- Do not cradle the telephone between your ear and shoulder. Consider using a headset that can easily plug into your telephone. If you do not use a headset, hold the receiver with one hand.
- If you need to look back and forth from the screen to the documents, place your hard copy on a document holder, close to and at the same height and viewing distance as the monitor.
Your workstation can be made to fit you and the type of work you do. Remember to:
- Check that you are using good posture to reduce the stress on your body.
- Adjust your chair to support your back and minimize awkward postures that can lead to muscle tension, fatigue, and soreness.
- Rearrange your workstation layout to avoid repetitive, prolonged, and awkward movements when you use the monitor, keyboard, mouse, documents, and other items.
- Take frequent breaks to avoid prolonged sitting and eyestrain.
Practicing good work habits and applying ergonomics at work can go a long way in helping you work safer.
*Information obtained from WCB Alberta and Work Safe BC websites.