Ergonomics: The Desk Job

Firstly, what is Ergonomics? It is the scientific study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. The primary goal of ergonomic interventions are to reduce stress on an employee’s body in order to prevent injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of muscles, repetitive tasks, and poor posture. Such a goal is often accomplished by designing tasks, work areas, computer displays, and lighting to best fit an employee´s physical capabilities, limitations, and individual needs.

Do you ever experience neck pain, lower back stiffness, or numbness in your arms after sitting your office desk all day? If so, you are not alone. In fact OSHA, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reported that work related musculoskeletal injuries of the neck, upper extremity and low back are one of the leading causes of lost productivity and missed work days (Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace, 2011).

The best thing you can do to counteract the harms of sitting is just to get up and move every 30 minutes or so, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. You should still try to meet exercise guidelines, but you can keep your desk job — just remember to take breaks.

Correcting your posture and working environment

Below are some ergonomic suggestions and tips for helping to reduce muscle stress and help prevent musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace.

  1. Center your body in front of your computer monitor and keyboard, or other workstation. Sit up in a comfortable and relaxed position.
  2. When typing, try to keep your wrists in a straight and natural position. Do not type with your wrists flexed up, bent down, or to either side.
  3. Keep key or commonly used objects such as your telephone, stapler, or writing utensils close to your body to prevent excessive stretching.
  4. Adjust the height of your desk chair so that your feet can rest comfortably on the floor and your knees are about level with your hips.
  5. Place the computer monitor directly in front of you on your desk, about an arm’s length away (typically 18 to 28 inches) away.
  6. The top of your computer screen should be slightly below eye level.
  7. If your job requires you to frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, consider using a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.
  8. Refocus on distant objects intermittently when working to help rest your eyes.
  9. Alternate work tasks to make changes in your posture and position in order to avoid the same movements for prolonged periods of time. Rotating tasks may seem inefficient, but the rest and use of different muscle groups increases energy and maintains productivity. For example, if you work at a single workstation and job task all day, move into different postures while you work: first standing, then standing with one foot resting on a stool, then sitting.
  10. Rest breaks mean recovery for the body. During a job task, take micro-breaks lasting 10-15 seconds every ten minutes. Take mini-breaks lasting 3-5 minutes every thirty to sixty minutes. These short breaks give the body a rest, reduce discomfort, and improve your performance.
  11. Stretches help you warm-up before work and relax during breaks; they increase flexibility and boost blood flow and oxygen to muscles. Perform stretches slowly and gently; avoid extreme postures and stop stretching if you feel pain or discomfort. Physical and Occupational Therapists are the most qualified individuals to generate a specific stretching and warm-up program.
  12. Overall fitness and flexibility, adequate sleep, task rotation, and rest breaks can help limit the overall risk of injury. Pay attention to signs of discomfort and fatigue on the job; these are warning signs from your body. As muscles tire during a work task, slouching can lead to poor posture, sloppy, uncontrolled movements, and injuries.

Other health risks . . .

Remaining seated at your desk for extended periods of time has health risks that you may not have considered.

Bacteria and Germs
Sneezing and other bacteria-breeding sources reside in the workplace frequently. In fact, your keyboard is probably the most germ-collecting surface on a desk. Keep your desk area as clean as possible, preferably with regular usage of anti-bacterial wipes or cleaners.

Computer Blue Light
According to research, blue light emitted from electronic devices, like a computer screen, has the potential to harm vision. Ophthalmologists recommend taking frequent breaks from looking at a computer screen. There are also special blue-light blocking glasses that can help protect from blue light while you’re working.

Snack Liabilities
Sitting for long periods of time obviously means the body is deprived of exercise. There is also a greater tendency to snack even when you are not necessarily hungry.

Mental Fatigue
Remaining sedentary and staring at a computer screen without taking breaks can lead to feelings of mental fog, tiredness, and even irritability.

DISCLAIMER: The above suggestions and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information we have sourced and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that the job you do or your workplace is safe or healthy or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards. Nor do we suggest or imply that the job you do or your workplace is unsafe or unhealthy or that it does not comply with all laws, regulations or standards.

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