At the end of the day, are your eyes strained, neck sore, muscles tense, and body stiff? You probably work at a desk all day.
Many who work in an office – at home, or any other location –sit almost all day long. Hours spend gazing at a computer screen, typing and talking on the phone add up to a bad situation if your workstation isn’t set up correctly.
If you’re not sitting properly throughout the day, you could be doing extensive damage; to your back, eyes, neck, shoulders, wrists, and overall body health. This is where ergonomics comes into play.
If office ergonomics sounds overly futuristic, or like some scary economics phrase, don’t worry, it’s actually quite simple. Also called human engineering, ergonomics attempts to rectify the limitations of work environments by making them healthier.
In layman’s terms, ergonomics educators help people in an office environment work more productively and healthily.
The Human Resources department of many companies provides employees with workspace ergonomic assessments.
Unfortunately, for those who are self-employed or work from home, the home office can literally bend you out of shape.
Diane Stinson, president of HealthWorks Inc., specializes in ergonomics and injury prevention. She’s only too familiar with common mistakes people make at their desks, and how to correct them. For example, many talk on the phone while typing. Stinson warns this could be quite detrimental:
“Cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder cramps up your upper back and neck.”
The solution: a cordless telephone with a headset and dial pad that attaches to a belt or pants will free up hands and allow you to talk wherever you please.
Are you sitting wrong? You might be surprised.
Sitting is one of the biggest areas to cover in ergonomics – so many different elements come into play, and so many people are doing it wrong. According to Stinson, the key to sitting in a chair all day long is maintaining a “neutral posture.”
When I think neutral, I think of a car – in neutral, it’s still and not doing much. The same principle applies.
“Everything should be relaxed,” Stinson says.
Your head should see the computer monitor straight on, your chin should be in a level position, and your ears positioned directly over your shoulders. You should be alert, but comfortable. Try to maintain good posture, but remain relaxed.
Not All chairs Are Created Equal
If you invest in nothing else for your home office, invest in a good chair. Stinson warns against chairs that don’t have armrests, or aren’t as adjustable as they should be.
“If a chair is too high, it can stress the muscles in your shoulders and upper back,” she says, “you also need a chair that supports your arms.”
Chairs with gas levers work well to adjust the seat to the right height. Also, seat size is important – too big and your legs could be dangling; too small and you may be uncomfortable.
If you have lumbar issues, invest in a char that has lumbar support. You can also buy a special lumbar pillow, or even place a rolled-up towel at the small of your back. Try to be aware of your wrist posture while working. Use armrests to ensure that your wrists are flat and hands inline with forearms.
The Eyes Have It
It’s also important to keep your eyes in mind when working. To avoid eye strain, the monitor should be placed as far away as you can have it with full vision intact.
Stinson recommends flat panel monitors, preferably with adjustable height. They have no glare, take up less space and are generally less expensive than a traditional monitor. If you have vision issues or wear lenses, lower your monitor so you can see without tipping your head back to get a better view.
If you use a laptop, you could be causing yourself quite a bit of strain from sitting too close and bending your head down to see the screen. Stinson suggests hooking up a separate keyboard and mouse. This enables you to put the laptop higher, up to your eye level.
To avoid eye strain when working with computers, use Stinson’s 20:20:20 rule: every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
It’s true: recess is good for you
Once you’re sitting and aligned correctly in your workspace, you still shouldn’t be sitting for extended periods of time without any movement.
The longest people should sit is 50 minutes, advises Stinson. After that, circulation to the working muscles decreases and stress is put on the back. Getting up and walking around for a few minutes, or doing some light stretching, can help greatly.
While ergonomic principles are hugely beneficial for work, you can apply them other areas of your life as well. Doing so now could save unnecessary trips to the chiropractor or doctor in the future, says Stinson:
“Many issues that result from poorly designed workspaces
are a lot easier to prevent than to cure after the fact.”