Many people don't realize that a poorly designed computer workstation and/or bad work habits can result in serious health problems. Common symptoms associated with poor design or habits include discomfort in the back, neck and shoulders, hands and wrists, as well as headaches and eyestrain. If you experience any of these symptoms while working, contact the UEOHC for medical help.
Fortunately, the solution can be quite simple. Proper workstation setup and work practices can eliminate discomfort and even prevent it from occurring in the first place! Simple adjustments to office equipment can work wonders, making work more comfortable and more productive.
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Starting from the bottom and moving upwards:
Considering using an exercise ball as your office chair? Think again. What may seem like a good idea to you or others is actually not recommended. Read the following articles for further information:
Start out adjusting a chair from the ground up. Start with the height and move up from there. While adjusting the chair, worry first about getting the chair adjusted to fit you. Afterwards, look at things like the height of the desk, keyboard, etc. Too often, people adjust a chair too high so they can reach the keyboard rather than properly adjusting the chair and adding a keyboard tray to move the keyboard to the correct height.
Use footrests as a last resort. Footrests are a way to shift postures or provide support for the feet if the chair cannot be lowered. Unfortunately, using a footrest when the chair is too high provides only one place for the feet to rest. The seated person only has the footrest and the castors under the chair as places for their feet and this limits the postures they can shift through throughout the day. The preferred solution is to add a shorter cylinder to the chair (see the chairs section), and lower the desk height until the desk surface is approximately 1 inch above seated elbow height.
The purpose of a keyboard tray is to change the height and angle of the keyboard without interfering with how the user uses the keyboard and mouse. Therefore, the tray should be easy to adjust, have enough room for the keyboard and mouse and not prevent the user from typing with the keyboard at forearm length from the body.
There are many keyboard designs available. This page will cover the two most common keyboard designs. The standard flat keyboard and the split keyboard. For a more in-depth review of keyboard designs, see Ergonomics of Alternative Keyboards and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health brochure on alternative keyboards.
The first decision to make is what kind of input device to get. Users grip standard mice and move them to move the cursor on the screen. With a trackball, the user rolls a ball mounted on a stand to get the same effect. Touchpads require the user to move a finger on a small touch-sensitive square to move the cursor. Other input devices mount in front of the keyboard, use a pen on a large touch-sensitive square or even combine hand gestures to interpret commands.
After deciding on the input device, look for the features it offers and how well it fits the hand.
Wrist rests are intended to promote straight wrists and reduce pressure on the wrist by providing a soft surface to rest upon. However, research studies by Parsons (1991), Paul and Menon (1994) and Horie et al. (1993) indicate that foam wrist rests create similar pressures on the wrist as not having a wrist rest. Wrist rests that are higher than the keyboard or too narrow can actually be worse than no wrist rest at all.
Like chair armrests, wrist rests are "rests", not "supports". Too often, users support their wrists with the wrist rest continuously while keying and mousing. In addition to exposing the wrists to constant pressure, this static position forces the typist to stretch the fingers and bend the wrist to reach keys at the sides of the keyboard.
Wrist rests are best used when there is a sharp edge or hard surface the user is constantly coming into contact with. They should be used to rest the wrists during pauses while typing and not used as a continuous support.
Monitors now come in two types: CRT (the traditional "box" monitor) and LCD (the thin, "flat panel" monitor). CRTs are less expensive and take up more space.
When shopping for a glare screen, consider what you need it for. Glare screens reduce light reflected into your eyes from the screen and reduce washing out of images on the screen. Privacy screens are used to prevent others from seeing the computer screen while standing to the side of the computer. Some screens combine both features.
Use a glare screen only when you cannot position the monitor away from glare-producing light sources or turn off lights that shine on the screen (see setting up my monitor and lighting). Using a glare screen is similar to wearing a pair of sunglasses while looking at the monitor. Everything is darker, including images on the screen!
After putting the screen in front of the monitor, check to see if reflections on the screen are reduced. Next, look through the screen to the monitor. Is the monitor darker? Adjust the brightness and contrast controls on the monitor until you can comfortably view the monitor again.
The purpose of a document holder is to hold reference documents as close to the computer screen as possible, and at about the same angle. This will eliminate a twisted working posture, and also put the document at an easier-to-read angle. Constantly reading from a hard-to-read angle can be hard on the eyes.
Document holders usually either clip to the side of the monitor, sit beside the monitor, or rest in front of the monitor.
Users who frequently use the phone and computer simultaneously or are on the phone for extended periods of time should consider a headset. Headsets attach to the head like a single headphone with a mouth piece or attach directly to the ear. Headsets reduce the tendency to cradle the phone and allow the user to work with both hands while conversing on the phone.
Headsets are either cordless or corded and both come in traditional headphone and over-the-ear configurations. In addition, the UNC phone system is compatible with specific headsets. Check with the manufacturer or retailer of any headset before purchasing.
Notebook computer problems and solutions:
These recommendations are for users who frequently travel and spend substantial time using a notebook computer while on the road.
In some offices, the notebook computer has entirely replaced the desktop as the primary computer. Sometimes the notebook travels between a home office and a work office, in which case read the section on Notebook weight.
Many offices have more light than is required to use a computer. Your work area should have moderate, indirect lighting free from sources of glare.
There are three types of glare: Direct Glare, Indirect Glare, and Contrast Glare.
Short, frequent rest breaks are more beneficial than longer, more infrequent ones. Sitting for more than an hour without moving can put stress on the body due to the static posture that you are forced to sustain. Breaks can be as simple as standing up and walking around your desk three times, or even simply yawning. When you sit back down, you'll be in a completely new posture.
We recommend taking about 20 seconds to 1 minute of break every 30 minutes. You should also break up your sitting period by walking to the water fountain, printer, etc.
Here are some tension-relieving exercises that you can do throughout the day. You don't need to do all of them at once, but it would be beneficial to do them at the beginning of each day, and during each 15-minute break. Think of work as a sport, and that you are stretching out before the game.
First, a good exercise would be to stretch muscles that are opposing the ones you normally use. This will allow you to achieve a balance within muscle groups. For example, if you regularly use your biceps muscle, along with stretching it, you can also stretch your triceps muscle.
Here are some other exercises:
A keyboard shortcut is one or a set of keys on your computer keyboard that, when pressed, perform a predefined task. Often, these tasks could be done with the mouse, but that would require moving the hand from the keyboard. Keyboard shortcuts are found in most all programs and can dramatically increase your work efficiency, especially for repetitive tasks. Try to get into the habit of using your keyboard instead of your mouse. We have compiled some commonly-used computer shortcuts to be printed and put up next to your computer for easy reference.
In addition to the above shortcuts, users can sometimes find the shortcut keys to their most popular program by looking for them in their menus. Some menus will have an underlined letter on a menu item. This indicates that the user can press the Alt key and the underlined letter to access that menu item as a shortcut. Sometimes, hovering over a button in a program may tell you the shortcut, or shortcuts may be listed right next to the menu item itself. Links to shortcut resources can sometimes be found in a program's Help section. As you begin to work with shortcut keys, you will notice that several applications share the same shortcut keys.