Ergonomics Information

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Everybody these days has a computer. Even people who don't have one at the office use a computer at home, in a classroom, a lab, or some other setting. Computers are wonderful - they make work easier and more enjoyable, and so much more efficient. 

But many people don't realize that a poorly designed workstation or bad work habits can cause serious health problems, from stress to permanent muscle injury.

Take a few minutes and learn how to make your work area safe and comfortable and how to develop healthy work routines. 

Just follow these six simple steps for happy, healthy computing:

1. Make sure your monitor and keyboard are positioned appropriately.
2. Make sure you have an adjustable chair and that it's adjusted correctly.
3. Make sure that you have adequate and correct lighting.
4. Take breaks often and do quick exercises to keep your muscles limber.
5. Move your eyes frequently and focus them away from the screen.
6. Ask for help whenever you have a problem.

Maintaining good posture while using a computer is your primary defense against fatigue and stress. Keep your back straight, with arms and shoulders relaxed. Avoid placing your body in awkward positions, such as lifting your arms above shoulder height; making long, extended reaches; using one shoulder as a telephone rest; and working with elbows outstretched.

A properly designed chair with a good backrest and a comfortable seat is essential for healthy computing. The chair should have a five-prong base to stabilize it, be able to roll and swivel, and be adjustable in height and angle. When you're sitting, your thighs should be parallel to the floor, with your feet resting flat on the floor or a footrest. Chairs should also follow these guidelines:

-- The seat should be at least 18" wide and 15-18" deep. The front of the seat cushion should not press against the back of your knees.

-- The chair should provide lower back support starting 6- 9" above the seat. You can also place pillows, cushions, or a small, rolled-up towel where the curve of your lower back rests against the chair.

-- Armrests should be at least 18" apart and should allow your upper arm to hang naturally from the shoulder when your forearm is on the rest. Remove armrests if they bump your workstation or interfere with normal positioning from the monitor.

Your monitor should sit directly in front of you, with the top of the screen at eye level so that the work area of the screen is just below the horizontal plane. The eye-to-screen distance should be 18-30". If your monitor is too low, use monitor pedestals, swivel arms, phone books, or styrofoam blocks to raise it. 

If you use a color monitor, choose soothing background colors such as green, blue, and orange rather than bright ones like red or yellow. Dark letters on a light background are generally most suitable. 

The position of your hands and wrists on the keyboard is very important, especially with the prevalence of such disorders as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

If your keyboard is placed correctly when you are typing, then your forearms should be parallel to the floor and at a right angle to your elbows and upper arms. The keyboard should be at your fingertips, with your arms and hands in a slightly downward slope and no sharp angles at your wrist.

Adjustable keyboard trays can be helpful with obtaining proper positioning, but should not be used if they interfere with leg placement or cause wrist bending.

Wrist Position
Keep your wrists straight. Avoid resting them on sharp edges, such as a desk edge. A wristrest provides a comfortable way to keep your wrists straight.

Your work area should have moderate, indirect lighting, about half the level of normal office lighting, and the contrast between your screen and other lighting should be low. Lights in front of you are hard on the eyes, while lights behind you produce reflected glare. To minimize glare, turn your monitor so it's perpendicular to the light source, use window shades or curtains, or tape a piece of cardboard across the top of the monitor to act as a visor. Screen filters can be helpful, but they increase lighting contrast and should be used only if no other method is feasible.

Blink often, and take frequent rest pauses: close your eyes for a minute or two, refocus by looking away from the monitor at something in the distance, and roll your eyes up and down, left to right. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, keep them clean.

If you wear bifocals, don't tilt your head back to see the screen, or you could strain your neck and shoulders. You might need a second pair of glasses dedicated to computer use. Special computer bi- and tri-focals are also available.

Rest Breaks
Taking breaks from your computer to stretch, limber, and strengthen muscles is very important. Short, frequent breaks are more beneficial than longer, more infrequent ones. Remember, too, that no single position is appropriate for long periods of time; shift the way you're sitting, and break up your sitting period by standing, stretching, or walking. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends taking breaks at least every two hours.

The following exercises can help maintain flexibility and prevent stress:

Hand Exercises
-- Tightly clench your hand into a fist and release, fanning out the fingers. Repeat 3 times.

-- With elbows straight, bend your wrists back as far as they will go, hold for 3 seconds, then extend wrists as far as they will go. Repeat 5 times.

Back and Shoulder Exercises
-- Stand up straight, place your hands on your hips and bend backwards at the waist, gently.

-- Touch the fingertips of your hands together just behind the top of your head without letting your hands touch your head, move your elbows in a backwards direction, hold 5 seconds then relax.

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