What area of work would you suspect to have the highest rates of work related injuries? One of the leading causes of occupational related injuries and disorders are not from industry, they are actually occurring within the office as work related musculoskeletal disorders. These types of disorders include injury to the back, neck, and shoulders as well as carpal tunnel syndrome or any other muscle injury sustained from working in the office.
So, what can we do to prevent these injuries from occurring in the workplace? Healthy workers mean healthy and productive work is being done. We can ensure that workers are maintaining their health by incorporating health and safety within the office. Our health is so important, and it’s easy to forget about sometimes when working in an office all day. By following simple ergonomic tips you can prepare your body for the long sit at your desk and also prevent your body from injury in the future.
Before we start the adjustments, it’s good to keep in mind to try and maintain good body positioning throughout the day. This means having a neutral body position, and letting the joints naturally align. You want to feel comfortable when you are working at your desk and have the lowest amount of stress on the body. By doing all of these things you are already starting to lower your risk for musculoskeletal injury.
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Potential Hazards and Solutions
Having a well-adjusted chair is essential to create a safe and productive work space. When the chair is used properly it can provide support to the back, legs, buttocks, and arms. Every person is created a little differently so the greater the adjustability in the chair, the better the fit for the individual.
When chairs are not used or adjusted properly this can lead to fatigue and back pain resulting from inappropriate postures.
When looking for a good fit, you want to see that the chair helps maintain the natural “S” shape of the body and gives lumbar support. A quick fix if your chair does not give lumbar support is to use a rolled up towel or pillow.
Seats that are not adjusted to the correct height can force your body to work with its feet unsupported and makes it difficult to maintain the natural shape of the body. This can lead to fatigue, restricted blood circulation, swelling, numbness, and pain.
To prevent this, ensure that the seat is adjusted to allow full support for the feet, and if this is not possible then a footrest can be used.
Having a seat that is not the right size for your body can be very uncomfortable; it can also restrict leg movement and provide inadequate support.
To prevent this chairs with adjustable seat pans should be provided, as well footrests can be used to relieve pressure
- When armrests are too low, it can cause you to lean over and rest on your forearms which causes uneven and awkward positioning
- When armrests are too high it can cause you to maintain raised shoulders, this can lead to fatigue and muscle tension
- When the armrests are too wide it can cause you to bend forward using elbows for support, which can cause muscle fatigue in the neck and shoulders
- When the armrests are too close it restricts movement
- Having armrests that are too large gets in the way of chair positioning
A properly adjusted armrest will be wide enough, close enough to support your lower arms and keep your upper arms close to your body. They should also be low enough so your shoulders are relaxed and should be large enough to provide support to most of your lower arm.
The base of the chair should have enough legs (five legged base) to ensure that it has enough support and to prevent it from tipping.
Keyboard and Mouse
It is very important to have support for your wrist and palms when at work. When they are not supported it can increase the angle to which your wrists are bent, this can causes stress and irritation to the tendons and the tendon sheathes.
To ensure that your hands and wrists are getting the best support they should be able to move freely when typing or moving the mouse. The keyboard should be around the same height as the forearm and the mouse should be relatively close to the keyboard. Whenever possible wrist and palm rests should be used to reduce stress. Make sure the bend in the wrist in minimal and try to maintain a neutral posture.
Monitor and Documents
To reduce excessive neck movement and stress when staring at your computer screen, its best to have an easily adjustable screen. The top of the screen should be adjusted (raised or lowered) to slightly lower then eye level. Optimal screen viewing distance can be adjusted and measured using a fully extended arm and fingertips; they should barely touch the screen.
For people who look between computer screens and documents frequently a document holder would be optimal.
Many common items that are used within the office can be replaced with alternatives that can provide better support. If you are using a phone for an hour or more a day a phone rest or a hands free device should be used to relieve neck stress.
Anti-glare devices should be used on all computer monitors, as they can help reduce eyestrain. Monitors must also be kept clean for optimal visibility and minimal eye strain.
Remember to maintain good body positioning as you go through your day. Keep your hands, wrists, and forearms in a straight line parallel to the floor when seated. Ensure your head is level or slightly bent forward and in line with your torso when looking at the computer screen. Relax your shoulders, and have your upper arms hanging normally by your side. Have your elbows close to your body at either a 90 or 120-degree angle and make sure the floor or a footrest supports your feet. Try to keep the body in its natural shape when sitting in your chair, which means having appropriate lumbar support. Lastly ensure that your thighs and hips are supported and parallel to the floor and your knees are roughly at the same height as the hips with your feet forward.
When sitting for long periods of time it is also very important to take breaks. Regardless of how good your posture is when sitting, your body still needs some time away from that position. Throughout the day take small breaks between work projects to stretch and walk around to get the blood recirculating through the body. This will also reduce fatigue and waken you up (For more on the importance of movement during the workday, check out Dear Body, It's Me Brain). If you keep these things in mind as your day goes on you will keep your body happy and feeling healthy for those long days in the office.