Workplace ergonomics is the science of designing the working space to the benefit of the worker. It should consider the limitations and capabilities of the worker so that they are comfortable and happy with their environment throughout the working day. Poor workplace design often leads to the worker becoming fatigued and pained by physical problems such as back pain.
While the ergonomics of the workplace will differ depending on the job, the sharp increase in white collar work means that the workplace for most people is the office. Prolonged periods of sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen can lead to problems with your posture, causing potentially serious back and neck pain. However, the NHS offer several tips for optimising your work space and advice on sitting correctly to avoid this.
Official health guidelines now recommend that workers spend at least two hours of the day standing up and breaking up sedentary time every 30 minutes. This is due to a growing body of evidence suggesting that sedentary behaviour can increase the risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Try to mix up hours of sitting work with standing work, or if this isn’t possible, encourage your work place to invest in sit-stand adjustable desks so that you can complete work while standing.
To reduce the risk of back pain, adjust your work chair so that your lower back is properly supported and straight, with your shoulders down and back, elbows relaxed at your sides and buttocks touching the back of the chair. Your thighs should be at right angles to your body with your feet flat to the floor or a footrest – try not to cross your legs as this can weaken your core muscles and lead to posture related problems.
Screen at eye level
Your screen should be directly in front of you at about an arms length away. If your monitor is too high or too low, you'll have to bend your neck, which can cause neck and upper back strain.
Using keyboard and mouse
Your keyboard should be placed at about 100mm to 500mm on your desk in front of you so that you can rest your wrist between periods of typing. Similarly, you should also keep your mouse (if you have one) along with any other objects that you need at a close an accessible distance. This will help you avoid repeated stretching and twisting to reach things.
Repeated movements over time, such as clicking on a mouse or typing on a keyboard can also put you at risk of a repetitive strain injury (RSI). To reduce the risk of an RSI make sure to take regular breaks and consider changing the settings on your mouse and keyboard.
Using the phone
If you regularly use the phone at work, cradling the handset between your ear and shoulder repeatedly can put strain on the muscles of the upper back, neck and shoulders. These muscles are not designed to hold this position for prolonged length of time and can lead to pain and muscles imbalances over.
The NHS recommends that instead you get into the habit of holding the handset in your hand but Tim Allardyce, Clinical Director of Surrey Physio www.surreyphysio.co.uk explains that using a headset is by far the best option. Headsets offer neck postural comfort, says Tim. Hands-free kits allow you to work comfortably and effectively without compromising your posture or position.