Office Safety – Ergonomics
by Dr. Isabel Perry,
“The Safety Doctor”
The word “ergonomics” has become a buzzword over the last
decade. What does it really mean? “Ergonomics”
is a fancy term for the science of workplace safety. Traditionally, when you moved into a new
office you received a desk, chair and office equipment, and you had to fit into
them. However, improper positioning
while performing repeated procedures such as typing and using the telephone
causes physical injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome caused by strain on
wrist muscles and tendons, pinched nerves and muscle spasms. Ergonomics is the science of adjusting
equipment to fit you, so that you aren’t straining any muscles, joints or
nerves. This makes it easier and safer to do your work. Manufacturers now
market ergonomic chairs, desks, wrist rests, keyboards and lighting. It is wonderful equipment, but if you really
want to benefit from it, you must use it correctly. Let’s create the safest environment we can.
If it hurts, stop doing it! As soon as you notice that there is some
discomfort in anything you are doing, stop for a moment and look at how you are
sitting, moving, and at what hurts. Look
for another way to do your task. Examine
the equipment you are using. If it has
been marketed as ergonomic, it is probably adjustable. Learn how to adjust it to better fit
Here are some adjustments that will make you more
comfortable, more productive and healthier!
For your back:
Your chair should be lined up straight with the
desk or table area on which you are working.
Do not sit at an angle. It
requires twisting the back or head and neck, which will throw your body out of
alignment and causes strain.
Sit up straight. It is very tempting to bend
over or slouch, but you will tire more quickly.
Avoid twisting around to get things. Let the chair do that for you.
Avoid placing items you use frequently above
your head or behind your back. Try to
organize your space so that these are readily available or put them out of
reach so you have to get up to get them.
For your shoulders, arms and forearms:
Shoulders should be relaxed. Avoid pulling your shoulders up. Try rolling them in a circle. Begin moving
them forward then around and up and back down towards the back. It will position them correctly and it is a
good exercise to do when you get tired.
Arms should hang straight down from your
Keep your elbows close to the body – avoid
lifting them above chest height.
Forearms can be in a variety of positions comfortably
depending on what you are doing:
handwork like typing and light assembly, your forearms should be at a 900
angle to your upper arms.
work involving close inspection or viewing like threading a needle, bend the forearms
to bring work into closer view, instead of leaning forward.
work requiring the use of force, like packing or pushing, the arms should be almost
in a straight line.
For your head, neck and eyes:
Face your work head-on; don’t sit sideways or
work with your head twisted to the side.
If you spend a lot of time at a computer, get a stand that will hold
your paperwork up next to the screen. It
will keep you from constantly having to turn your neck back and forth as you
look from the screen to the paper.
Don’t stick your neck out (forward) – it weighs
about 15 pounds.
Don’t stick you head back – most of the time you
should be looking straight ahead or slightly down. If you have a computer screen that sits low
on a desk surface, put something under it to raise it to the right height.
Don’t hold the telephone between your shoulder
and cheek. Either hold it with your hand
or use a headset, which will free you to talk on the phone and write comfortably
at the same time.
Avoid eyestrain - keep your workplace evenly
lit. There should be overhead lighting
as well as task-specific lighting on the desk or work surface. Never work in the dark on a computer or at a
task with only one light over the work surface.
Never put your computer in front of a window. Adjusting to the differences in light levels between
your computer screen and the area around you will cause significant eyestrain.
For your hands and wrist:
Keep your wrists straight. The normal position
for a handshake is a straight wrist position.
It’s all right to rotate your hand, but avoid bending your wrist.
When working on the computer, don’t let your
wrists drop. Keep your hands floating
above the keyboard.
Don’t prop your hands on wrists rests or other
Don’t reach for your mouse; place it in a
comfortable position so your arm and forearm stay at about a 900
For your hips, legs, knees and feet:
Hips should be fully supported by the chair
Knees should be at the same height or slightly
higher than your hips when you’re seated.
A footrest will help raise the knees into a comfortable position.
The edge of the chair should not cut into the
back of your knees.
Feet should be flat on the floor or other
support. Do not sit with your knees
crossed. It will throw your back out of
alignment and cause significant strain.
Wearing very high heels while seated may cause
ankle and leg strain.
For standing work:
If your work involves standing for long periods, in addition
to the other tips do the following:
Wear comfortable footwear
Consider using fatigue mats
If work involves standing in one spot, try using
a “bar rail” support. If you prop a foot
up while standing, it eases a lot of the stress on your lower back.
For heavy loads:
Carts are essential if you must carry heavy
Use the elevator instead of the stairs when
carrying heavy objects.
Automatic staplers and postage machines may also
be used to reduce wrist and hand strain.
Break up your day:
Break up long tasks into smaller time segments.
Don’t save all your filing till the end of the day and spend 3-4 hours
Vary the work during the day
from seated to standing work or from work requiring lots of hand motion to work
requiring little hand motion.
Last but just as important – let people know if there is
a problem or potential problem. Your
company can’t help make the workplace a safer place to work if you don’t let
them know what your needs are. Report
Dr. Isabel Perry is
an internationally-known safety expert, motivational speaker, author and safety
educator. Based in Orlando, Florida, she can be reached at 407-291-1209 or via e-mail at