The term ergonomics was coined in 1950 by a group of physical, biological, and psychological scientists and engineers in the United Kingdom to describe interdisciplinary activities that were designed to solve problems created by wartime technology. The term is derived from Greek roots ergon, which is related to work and strength, and nomos, indicating law or rule. So basically ergonomics means work rules.

Sitting at a desk looks easy, but poor desktop design can make it feel like you've been lifting weights all day. Pain, swelling, stiffness, or numbness may be symptoms of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). Working in a neutral posture makes it less likely that you'll develop tendonitis, trigger finger, or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Basic Office Ergonomic Principals

Now is a good time to review some basic office ergonomic principals. Keep in mind that everyone's anatomy is different and what works for one person may not work for everyone. The following suggestions have been shown to reduce some of the ergo stressors associated with computer use:

  • A Person With Flat Hands While Using a ComputerYour hands, wrists, and forearms should be parallel with the floor when typing. The chair or keyboard tray should be adjusted to provide adequate height to bring your arms parallel with the floor and obtain a 90-degree angle of the upper arm and elbow when the fingers are resting on the keyboard. The wrists should be straight. Fold in the little feet under the keyboard and adjust the keyboard shelf (if available) to a level position. To repeat, do not open out the feet on the keyboard.
    • In some situations, a standard desk will not allow a worker to obtain a neutral angle without his/her legs hitting the underside of the desk or his/her feet being off the ground. In these situations, you should consider an adjustable keyboard shelf which may be able to be added to the work stations. The keyboard should be as flat as possible.
  • Monitors should be arranged so that the top of the viewing screen is level with the your eyes and is between 18 to 25 inches from your eyes. It may be necessary to move the monitor to the desk top and obtain a swivel-type base for some monitors. The monitors should be positioned directly in front of the operator. To reduce glare, the monitor should be positioned so that it does not face the windows. It would be best if the monitor is perpendicular to the windows to reduce the amount of glare. If this is not possible a glare screen should be installed. These steps help reduce eyestrain and neck strain.
    • Special considerations are necessary for bifocal wearers. The monitor screen's position will need to be adjusted to fit the individual's needs. In extreme cases the eyeglass wearer may want to consider a fixed distance pair of glasses especially prescribed for computer use. Obviously this will need to by done by a licensed Optometrist or Ophthalmologist. This can help reduce the neck strain associated with bifocal use.
  • Adjustable foot rests should be used by those who spend a great deal of time keying information into computers. A foot rest will provide an opportunity to slightly elevate the feet occasionally. This will raise the knees and improve circulation as well as provide a neutral angle for the ankle. The appropriate angle appears to be 15 to 20 degrees for most people.
  • A well-designed ergonomic chair should be very versatile and easily adjusted.
    • It should be able to move up and down easily so that the seat pan can be positioned between 15 to 20 inches from the floor. If possible, the angle of the seat pan should also be adjustable. The front edge of the seat pan should be well rounded to avoid pressure to the underside of the thighs. Use a well-padded seat to support your thighs and hips. Adjust your chair so your thighs are generally parallel to the floor with your knees at about the same height as your hips.
    • The back rest should be adjustable in height and in distance from the back edge of the seat pan. It should be curved to support the lower lumbar region of the back. To allow free mobility of the arms and shoulder blades, it probably should not extend up to the neck. . Your back should be fully supported when you sit up straight or lean back slightly.
    • The arm rests should provide comfortable support and have good padding. They should be well-rounded to avoid pressure points on the forearm. Most good ergonomically-designed chairs have adjustable arm rests. When working at your desk keep your shoulders relaxed. Your upper arms should hang normally at the sides of the body. You should be able to keep your elbows close to your sides
    • For those of you who have gotten new chairs, it's a good idea to get acquainted with your new chair. Learn its features and know how to adjust it. A well adjusted-chair is a key element in office ergonomics.
  • Workers who must enter information from hard copy source documents should have a document holder that is adjustable so that the source document is close to the monitor screen. This can help reduce neck and shoulder fatigue as well as reducing eye strain.
  • Woman at a Work StationWork stations should be designed so that frequently-needed items (paperclips, telephone, books, folders, etc.) are within easy reach. The reach should be no more than shoulder height and the operators should never reach in back of themselves. Position these items so that they are within a comfortable distance to retrieve without over reaching, which may not seem like a big deal but when your muscles have been in a comfortable and relatively static position for a while, that long reach can bring about a muscle pull or strain.
  • One of the best ways to reduce cumulative trauma disorders is to break up the fixed-position or repetitive-action work administratively. By distributing heavy amounts of word processing over a greater number of people, you can reduce the amount of time individual workers must spend in a given repetitive-action activity. Other administrative methods include assigning other office activities, such as filing or mail handling, to workers who have a high level of fixed-position repetitive action. This will allow a variety of activity --still and movement.
  • Recent research has indicated that one of the best ways to reduce cumulative trauma problems is to take frequent short breaks, or as is termed in the literature micro breaks. Micro breaks can be as simple as doing a stretching exercise, or standing and moving, and/or focusing on something else for a few seconds. This can help reduce fatigue by creating breaks where the worker can stretch, focus their eyes on something else (something in the distance), and move around to improve blood circulation.

Employee Safety wants to remind you that Safety Is In Your Hands.