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Risk Management Tips - Ergonomics

Portrait of a smiling customer service representative with an afro at the computer using headset

Poor ergonomics can potentially contribute to injuries, a.k.a. musclo-skeletal disorders (MSD’s) including things like carpal tunnel, tendinitis, muscle strains and degenerative disc disease. More often however, poor ergonomics leads to micro-trauma, which is felt as muscular discomfort and/or muscular fatigue. Left unchecked, this micro-trauma can evolve over time to an actual injury. Whether micro-trauma or, an actual injury (macro-trauma), each can adversely impact work and personal productivity, and quality of life.

The goal of ergonomics and ergonomic interventions, therefore, is to reduce ergonomic risk factors thereby reducing the risk of fatigue, discomfort, and injuries at work to promote a safe and healthy quality of life at work and at home.

With the onset of COVID, the amount of remote / home office work performed has increased throughout the U.S. and the world, increasing the risk of poor ergonomics and the potential problems associated with it.

Some common office ergonomic hazards include:

  • Poor / awkward seating position / postures (see diagrams above)
  • Prolonged postures, typically seated
  • Poor computer or monitor viewing position, and prolonged viewing
  • Frequent and/or repetitive wrist and hand motions with keying and / or mouse use

Here are a few tips to help your comfort and avoid fatigue in the office, at home or, at the corporate office:

  1. IMPORTANT: Incorporate breaks to stand, move and stretch!!
    • This is one of the most beneficial things that can be done for those that would otherwise work in predominantly sitting positions.
    • Stand and move at least once per hour, for at least 30-60 seconds.
    • Schedule work and strategically place peripherals so that prolonged seated postures can be interrupted periodically. Placing the printer away from your desk area so you must get up and walk is an example. Standing or walking around while taking phone calls is another suggestion.
    • Refer to the “postural reversal” exercises page (link at the end of this article) for brief but effective exercises that can offset the effects of awkward and/or prolonged postures.
  2. Adjust the chair or seat height so that the thighs are approximately parallel to the floor with the feet resting flat on the floor or on a footrest.  The seat pan should not compress the back of the thighs.
  3. Adjust the seat back – the lower back (lumbar area) plus mid-back should be well-supported.  Adjust the seat back height, angle, and tilt tension accordingly, and sit all the way back in the chair so that the body is supported.
  4. The keyboard position should be such that the elbows are bent to approximately 90 degrees, and the upper arms are in line with the body. There should be very minimal to no forward reaching.
  5. The forearms should be approximately parallel to the floor – adjust the keyboard and mouse tray or desk height accordingly.
  6. Ensure wrists are straight (neutral) and the hands are in line with the forearms – adjust the height and position of the keyboard tray to keep wrists neutral and not excessively bent in either direction.
  7. Keep elbows close to the sides and adjust the arm rests (if used) so that the weight of the forearms rest on the arms rests.  Avoid hunching the shoulders forward.
  8. Reduce the awkward postures of the neck by placing the monitor at or slightly below eye level. Use reams of paper or other object to raise height of the monitor if needed.
  9. Ensure that the monitor is placed about arm’s length away from the eyes. A monitor that is too far away can cause eye strain and headaches. Dual monitors should be located closely together and at the same height and distance so that the eyes do not have to re-focus and the head does not turn significantly when looking between the monitors.
  10. During prolonged periods of looking at a monitor, reduce eye strain take micro-breaks using the 20-20-20 rule.  Take a 20 second break every 20 minutes by looking at things at least 20 feet away.
  11. Ensure adequate task lighting when working on printed materials, and focused, diffused light for computer work.  If the monitor is placed next to a window, the window should have a covering that prevents direct light on the monitor screen, or the monitor should be placed at a right angle to the window.  Glare will cause eye fatigue and dryness.  Adjust the tilt of the laptop screen to minimize screen glare.  Use an anti-glare screen only as a last resort.
  12. For laptop users an external mouse can help provide better ergonomics using the touch pad.

We hope this information has been helpful. Below are links to additional resources that you may find beneficial:

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact IPMG risk management.