Health is wealth, says the old adage. Unfortunately, the age of digitalization means that more people than ever hunch over PCs from dawn to dusk. Many of them eventually suffer physical ailments such as lower back pain, neck pain, eye strain and even wrist pain that stems from poor postures or repetitive stress injuries (RSI).
As a result, many people are now concerned about ergonomics and are becoming aware of the importance of a well-designed desk and work area. In addition, vendors are now offering gadgets, IT equipment and office furniture designed with ergonomics in mind.
Here’s a look at the ideal working posture, along with some suggestions about how to set up and ergonomic work area.
The ideal work posture
Anchoring the best practices on how to set up an ergonomic workstation are various studies conducted to determine the best posture for someone sitting at a desk and working on a PC. Some common denominators that have emerged include having the top of the display aligned with ones’ eyes or slightly lower, and placing the monitor about an arm’s length away — and positioned at an angle that doesn’t introduce glare.
Your chair should offer adequate back support and should be at a height where it’s possible to keep your feet flat on the ground. When typing at a desk, you wrists should be in a straight line with your forearms to reduce the risks of RSI.
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The diagram below, from “A Guide to Healthy Computing” (published by Microsoft and reproduced here with permission), illustrates these points with a visual guide to what a properly set up ergonomic workstation should look like.
Putting it together
Though the basics of good ergonomics look easy, the truth is that it’s not always so simple to get real-world furniture and IT equipment to conform to the ideal outlined in the illustration. With this in mind, let’s take a look at various components of your workstation.
Your desk, keyboard and monitor
If you can choose your own monitor, look for one with an adjustable stand, such as many of Dell’s business-centric monitors. If you don’t do work that requires sharp screen images, such as desktop publishing or graphic design, you might also consider a monitor with a matte screen, which would cut down on glare and cause less eye strain than other screens — though matte screens are only an option with LCD displays.
Whatever type of display you go with, try to position your desk and the display itself so that the screen doesn’t catch direct light from a window or indoor lighting. That will help avoid glare and thereby reduce the strain on your eyes.
One way to make sure you can position your display exactly as you like it is to use a desk mount with an adjustable arm. Such products are offered by a variety of device makers. Those from Ergotron, for example, clip to the edge of the desk or install over a grommet hole and offer a wide range of motion so you can position your screen exactly where you need it to be. (Another advantage of monitor arms is that they allow you to push your monitor out of the way to free up additional desk space when you need it.)
Laptop users face unique ergonomic challenges, especially when it comes to screen positioning. If your laptop is just sitting on your desk, the screen will be in an unergonomic position way below eye level. Moreover, typing on a laptop can be stressful on your hands because the built-in keyboards are often flat, shallow and cramped. One way to improve the setup is to use an external keyboard and mouse and put the laptop on a stand, such as the TwelveSouth HiRise for Mac, to raise the screen to a more convenient height.
If you spend quite a bit of time at your desk, it would be a good idea to get an ergonomic chair that provides good support for your lower back. A good chair provides more comfort for prolonged sitting and helps to reduce the risk of back strain or injury. If your options are limited, you should at least try to get a chair with an adjustable seatback.
If your employer — or you — has no budget for a new chair, an alternative is to buy an ergonomic backrest and put it on your existing chair. One option is the Kensington SmartFit Conform Back Rest, which fits on existing chairs and offers four adjustable settings that the company claims will offer the maximum support for the spine.
Another way to improve the ergonomics of an existing work area without spending a lot of money is to get a footrest. A footrest can be especially helpful when the only way to get your wrist parallel with your keyboard is to raise the height of your chair to the point where you can’t rest your feet on the ground. Elevating your feet in such a situation keeps your knees bent at an optimal angle, which helps ensure that blood circulation is not restricted.