It seems the health benefits of ergonomics are being touted everywhere these days. Every keyboard, mouse, and desk accessory has to fit the bill. Everything must be ergonomically designed and user-friendly.
We may all be suffering from health & safety overload. But we have to take the E word seriously. For very good reasons.
Eye strain, back pain, and muscle aches in the neck, legs, and wrists. They can all be avoided, or at least alleviated, with a correctly set up and ergonomic work space. Good news for those of us who spend eight hours a day at a desk staring at a computer screen.
For an employer too there are excellent reasons to invest in the right equipment. Especially as creating an ergonomic workstation needn’t cost very much.
Yet it will help reduce staff absences and boost productivity. By taking ergonomics seriously we can all work safer and smarter as even minor changes to our workstation can reap big benefits.
Perhaps the biggest innovation in ergonomics has been the upright, or standing, desk. The thought of standing whilst writing a report, editing a spreadsheet, or creating a technical drawing is counterintuitive. Yet there is no denying these desks are beginning more popular particularly in the US.
They certainly aren’t yet a common sight in most UK offices but perhaps they should be? Research has shown sitting at a desk for hours on end can have a long-term impact on health.
A phrase currently gaining traction is ‘sitting is the new smoking.’ Which is clearly absurd.
Yet, there is no doubt sitting for excessively long periods slows the metabolism which can lead to weight gain and even diabetes. Poor posture can cause muscle aches, strains and most commonly, back pain.
None of which bodes well for the average office worker as they can spend nearly six hours sat at a desk every day. In addition to time spent sitting in the car, on a bus or watching TV.
Unfortunately an ergonomic standing desk isn’t some sort of silver bullet to everlasting health. Research linking standing to good health is embryonic at best. But it seems standing at your desk can help you burn more calories. It will also help you maintain a healthy posture.
So, a standing desk can help prevent some of the problems caused by sitting. But long-term benefits are uncertain. Or rather untested.
However, an adjustable desk which can switch between sitting and standing may be the ideal alternative. The user is able to alternate between sitting and standing during the course of the working day.
But, whichever type of desk you use there are other measures you can take to ensure your workstation is ergonomic. And as user-friendly, as possible.
Siting your monitor(s) correctly can help avoid eyestrain. The top of the screen should be centred and roughly at eye level with the distance, depending on size of screen, an arms-length.
If you are using multiple monitors don’t leave a gap between the screens.
Chair (when choosing to sit)
An essential component of any ergonomic office is. A high-quality chair.
It should provide lumber support and be fully adjustable. The user should adjust the height of the chair so their feet are flat on the floor. Or on a footrest.
A word about seat position. There should be a gap between the seat and the user’s legs roughly equivalent to a clenched fist.
Maintaining a good posture when sitting is easier said than done. I’m typing this hunched over my keyboard like Quasimodo tying his shoe laces.
What I should be doing is ensuring my head isn’t leaning forward, my arms should be relaxed and forearms parallel to the desk.
Finally, I should be sat back deep into the chair with my feet firmly planted on the floor.
A Few Ergonomic Inspired Tips
- Use a document holder. Keeping paperwork at the same height and distance as the monitor helps reduce eye strain.
- For desk mounted monitors a riser is an affordable and practical way to raise the screen to a comfortable height.
- To find the optimal distance for a monitor the tip of the middle finger should just brush the screen when held at arms-length.
- Take a break. At least once an hour leave the desk and move around to prevent aches and pains from sitting in one place for too long.