The ergonomics design of the computer workstation is applicable in the office environment and wherever you find yourself working. How you set up the space and work has a big impact on reducing the use of awkward postures and for the risk of injury. For those who are finding themselves working at home more often, here are some ergonomics tips to follow.
Similarly, handheld devices are an increasingly important part of many people’s lives. Unfortunately, the overuse of these devices can lead to injuries including wrist and thumb strains, muscle tension in the neck, and eye strain.
Using an improper workstation setup for an extended duration can cause awkward posture which can increase the risk for ergonomic-related injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. It is important to set up your workstation as best you can to prevent injury regardless of where you might work.
In addition, frequent users of handheld devices may be at risk of injury. The main risks include awkward postures of the thumb, repetitive motions, and holding body positions for long periods of time (static postures).
Wherever you’re sitting, whether it’s an office chair or kitchen chair, make sure of the following:
- You have adequate back support so the ears are in line with the shoulders and hips.
- If not, try adjusting your chair (if possible) or adding a pillow to act as a lumbar support for your lower back.
- Your shoulders are relaxed and level when keyboarding and using the mouse.
- If not, raise/lower your chair or work surface height — try using books to prop up monitor screens or your laptop if you’re using an external keyboard. Consider using your ironing board as a height-adjustable desk.
- Your hands are in line or slightly lower than your elbows.
- If not, try folding a small towel to use as a wrist rest along the length of your keyboard.
- Your arms are relaxed and your wrists are in a neutral/straight position (not up, down, or to one side).
- If not, try the homemade wrist-rest as above.
- Make sure your wrists are at the same level and as close to the keyboard as possible.
- Adjust your chair height, if possible.
- Align your keyboard, monitor, and chair in a straight line.
- Your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are at the same height as your hips.
- If not, try raising your chair (if possible) or adding a footrest — use books or old binders.
- You have adequate space beneath your work surface to move legs.
- If not, remove any objects under your workspace.
- Your documents and equipment are positioned correctly.
- Keep frequently used items at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions and avoid reaching across your body.
- Position your computer screen with your eyes naturally hitting the top of the screen, and reduce glare and brightness by adjusting your blinds and overhead lights. Use a task lamp if available; shine it away from the monitor.
If you’re working at home on a laptop, see if you can bring your external keyboard and mouse from your workplace, or even your monitor if allowed. This will give you more flexibility in your at-home workspace.
If your workstation is not ideal, try to vary your tasks so you’re not in the same position and posture all day; take frequent mini-breaks and get up and move around! Try standing or pacing when taking phone calls.
Try to set up an area that is dedicated to work that you can leave at the end of the day.
How to prevent handheld device-related pain:
- Limit the use and duration of the handheld device.
- Maintain good posture for the wrists, thumbs, and neck.
- Pay attention to your grip and how you are holding your device. Keep wrists upright, straight, and reduce continuous gripping.
- Use a normal speed of motion. Try not to rush and type fast.
- Alternate among using your thumb, index finger and a stylus, if available.
- Investigate the use of devices that reduce grip forces like a tablet holder or external keyboard.
- Take breaks, stretch, and avoid typing for more than three minutes at a time.
- Keep text messages short. Return only urgent emails and use key shortcuts (cut, paste, etc.) and abbreviations.
- Stop when it hurts and learn to recognize overuse aches and pains.
- When choosing a device consider its weight, size, and how it fits in your hand.
The employer is responsible to provide a safe and healthy work environment. The employer can prevent injuries from handheld devices by developing an ergonomics program with your workplace safety and health committee. Safety and health laws in Manitoba require employers to do the following:
- Conduct a risk assessment when they have been made aware of a work activity that creates the risk of sprain and strain injury.
- If the risk assessment identifies a problem, the employer must implement measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of injury.
- Monitor the effectiveness of the measures taken and inform exposed workers of the risk of injury, common signs and symptoms of injuries and provide instruction and training on how to work to avoid injuries.
- Ask your joint safety and health committee or worker representative to review and/or develop company policies and procedures for the safe use of handheld devices.
- Report any pain or injury to your supervisor or employer.
- See a doctor if you have any symptoms of injury.