Ergonomic Essentials Part 4: How to Create an Ergonomic Job Design and Workstation Layout

In our final installment of ‘Ergonomic Essentials’ by Buzz Furniture in Melbourne, we discuss the benefits of considering other areas that can be made conducive to workplace productiveness that are less considered, apart from the typical ‘chairs’ and ‘desks’ that come to mind when thinking of the word ‘ergonomic’. Believe it or not, the arrangement of items on office desks and workstations such as placement of the monitor, keyboard, mouse documents and other items and positively or negatively affect work performance.

Monitors

Regardless of whether you work with a desktop, laptop, or tablet, keeping the screen at optimal height and viewing distance helps to reduce or prevent eye strain and muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. It is all too common for office workers to develop rounded shoulders when screens are badly placed, which can result in increased risk of shoulder impingement and unnecessary pain or tension in the upper body. Some factors that are important to consider when arranging monitors includes:

  • Screen height:  The top line of text (not the top of your monitor) should be at eye level. It an adjustable monitor arm is not available to you, you can place books or other stable materials underneath your monitor to bring the top of the screen to eye level. For busy and collaborative workplaces or offices where many people share the same workstation or desk, adjustable monitor arms should be strongly considered as monitor height can be adjusted very easily.
  • Viewing distance: Optimal distance between your eyes and the screen is considered optimal at about arm’s length. When viewing the monitor at this distance, ears should be in line with the shoulders rather than in front or behind as this can place unnecessary stress on the neck and upper back muscles.
  • Prescription eyewear: Consideration of how prescription eyewear may affect comfort when working at an office desk is often overlooked. Ophthalmologists and optometrists can prescribe lenses made specifically for computer use or as bifocal or multifocal glasses. They often require basic work information such as measurements from your eyes to the monitor screen, work documents, and keyboard. Other information they may need includes the size of your screen, a description of your job tasks, description of the programs you use, and type of lighting.
  • Dual monitors: Dual monitor workstations should be handled similarly to single monitor desks. Both monitors should be at the same optimal height as for a single monitor, and both should be no closer than arm’s length away from the eyes to avoid unnecessary neck rotation. The main-use monitor should be positioned directly in front of your line of vision, with the second monitor right next to the main monitor. If both monitors are used equally, place them side by side and adjust your body keyboard, and mouse so your body and neck are straight.

Keyboards

Keyboards that are adjusted optimally should allow you to keep your wrists straight while typing. For most people, this means simply moving the keyboard up or down the desk, or raising or lowering your chair so that you can hold your wrists straight while touching the middle row of keys. Slight adjustments can also be made to the keyboard angle by folding the legs on the underside of the keyboard.

Sore wrists can develop from unconsciously dropping your palms or wrists while typing. This can be assisted with palm or wrist supports during rest periods from typing. Note they are only beneficial to wrist health if they are used as rests occasionally when you stop typing or mousing. The wrist support should be of similar thickness to the keyboard and narrow in depth so it only touches the palm and not the wrist.

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Wrist or palm supports should be made of a soft, smooth and rounded material to help in reducing wrist pain and tension.

A range of alternative keyboards are also available. These keyboards can be split, angled, or have alternative keyboard arrangements that are thought to reduce discomfort when typing.
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This split-style keyboard by Microsoft allows you to keep your wrists in a more natural position and prevent overuse injuries.

The Mouse and other Tracking Devices

The mouse and other tracking devices (such as a stylus) should be able to be used when your wrists are straight, shoulders are relaxed, and elbows are by your sides. Discomfort in the hand or wrist may also be improved by increasing the pointer speed of the mouse.

Documents

Documents that are poorly placed can cause muscle discomfort or eye strain. This is because you may have to hold your head in an awkward posture for long periods to read the document, or repeatedly move your head in different directions between the computer screen and the document.

For jobs that require high volumes of moving between screen and documents such as data input roles, document holders should be strongly considered by the employer as that allow the documents to be placed correctly at eye level and right next to or directly underneath the monitor screen.

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Document holders can be an effective way to reduce muscle discomfort or eye strain.

As we have explained, how you arrange your keyboard, monitor, mouse, and other work materials at your office desk can directly affect your comfort and ultimately your health. Carefully considering the placement of your workstation items and how they can be modified can be a fantastic start to creating a productive, ergonomic workplace.
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