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Ergonomics in the workplace, a rough guide

With the rise of the ‘flexible workspace’ and ‘hot desking’ ergonomics in the workplace was already becoming increasingly important but with the sudden and necessary increase in working from home prompted by the Coronavirus pandemic many people have found themselves with no option but to spend upwards of 40 hours per week sitting in their home office, at the kitchen or dining room table or even worse working from their settee or bed!

Furthermore it appears that the policy of social distancing will be with us for some time to come so action is needed now to make workers more comfortable at their temporary workstations and to ensure that they are not left suffering symptoms such as back, neck, shoulder or wrist pain as this may impact on their personal lives and disrupt leisure and family time now or in the future.

Each individual needs to have their workstation set up specifically for them with due regard for their size and shape. When working from home at short notice however options to select or adjust furniture are often greatly reduced. In this blog we will give some basic information and tips to help anyone who has to rapidly set up a workstation at home to make the most of what they have available. A few basic rules observed at the setup stage and at the beginning of each working day will allow those who sit in order to work to be more comfortable and place less stress on their body therefore heading off possible problems in the future.

Start with the chair. Ideally it should have a solid, stable base with castors so whilst seated it can be easily manoeuvred into a comfortable position under the desk or table. If this isn’t an option then a chair that can easily slide on the floor is a workable alternative. A chair should support the back by mirroring it’s curves. It should be comfortable and support the back in an ‘easy neutral’ position without for example making the curve of the lower back too deep. If your chair doesn’t do this then a rolled or folded towel can be placed between your back and the back of the chair just above the waist to give gentle support. The height of the chair should allow both feet to rest comfortably on the ground with knees flexed to about 90 degrees and thighs parallel to the floor. If the chairs at your disposal are too low then add a large stable cushion to raise you up by a small amount. If you are using or even buying a chair with ergonomics in the workplace in mind it’s important to check that armrests if it has them do not stop it from easily fitting under the desk.

An appropriate desk needs to have enough clearance for a chair to easily wheel or slide into position with the person’s legs not being impeded in any way. Elbows should rest gently on or be very slightly above the desk so both forearms rest on it. If there is no choice but to to use a table that is too low then it might be possible to raise it up by placing sturdy blocks under the legs or if it’s too high maybe raise the chair to suit the desk-height and get a footrest on which to place both feet.

Monitor or screen position is the next important issue to be tackled. It should be placed directly and squarely to the front about an arm’s length away with the top of the screen at eye level or if using bi or varifocal glasses then the screen should be lowered by about a thumbs length. The keyboard and mouse should be within easy reach and usable with both arms resting close to the body with wrists straight. Try to swap the hand used to operate the mouse from time to time to rest the dominant hand. A support may be necessary to enable wrists to remain straight when working, my advice would be to do this sooner rather than later and not leave it until it becomes a problem.

Monitor or screen position is the next important issue to be tackled. It should be placed directly and squarely to the front about an arm’s length away with the top of the screen at eye level or if using bi or varifocal glasses then the screen should be lowered by about a thumbs length. The keyboard and mouse should be within easy reach and usable with both arms resting close to the body with wrists straight. Try to swap the hand used to operate the mouse from time to time to rest the dominant hand. A support may be necessary to enable wrists to remain straight when working, my advice would be to do this sooner rather than later and not leave it until it becomes a problem.

In conclusion: Taking time to apply the rules of ergonomics in the workplace as much as possible when working from home will give benefits in the short, medium and longer term. This is not only essential for the comfort and health of the individual as they work but also with the theory that a happy worker is a productive worker it could be good for employers too.

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