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Whether you’re a student or out in the work force already, chances are good that you spend at least a minute amount of time every day sitting at a computer desk, and chances are even better that you’re not practicing workstation ergonomics. Ergo-what?, you may ask. Ergonomics define the basic set of guidelines designed to protect your physical health while working at a computer desk or doing repetitive and possibly harmful work like lifting. Think of when your eyes feel strained or when your neck aches from looking at a computer screen. Workstation ergonomic practices aim to reduce these and other effects by describing the best computer set up, posture, leg and arm placement, and (my favorite) frequency of breaks. We’ve covered the internet like dust on a keyboard to find the standards most often upheld and supported by organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to keep you safe, feeling vibrant, and free of unnecessary aches. If you’re reading this at a computer desk, prepare to make some adjustments for your short term and long term health. Ready?
When your mother always told you to stand up straight, she was right: good posture is essential to good health, and working at a desk is no exception. Even where your legs and arms are in respect to body, desk, and keyboard matter more than you might assume.
This is the position endorsed by OSHA and other proponents of healthy work habits. They recommend sitting all the way back in your desk chair, arms and elbows at desk height and in line with your keyboard, with your eyes at or higher than your computer screen. Your shoulders and neck should be relaxed, as should your legs. If your feet don’t touch the floor, try a stepping stool or
something similar to provide that extra support for your lower back. If you’re finding that you aren’t getting enough lower back or lumbar support, you better do something about it: you’d be surprised at the different types of injuries caused by improper posture and sitting! A quick solution is something like a Posture Perfect Mesh Lumbar Support addition to your computer chair. Its elasticized bands allow you to adjust different chairs easily.
YES, lighting and ventilation matter and makes a difference in your work flow and overall satisfaction. In fact, proper lighting can reduce the chances of experiencing Computer Vision Syndrome (YES, it’s a real problem) and ventilation decreases your chances of catching an illness (YES, it rids your work area of airborne cooties).
Lighting helps keep glare away from your screen, which would otherwise cause that eye strain we mentioned as well as neck and shoulder pain and headaches. Additionally, sufficient lighting can also increase your mood– who knew? Adding a desktop lamp like this Mini Z-Bar High Powered Lamp from Koncept lighting helps eyes focus more on completing your task than at trying to decipher what the task is.
While seemingly frivolous, a desktop fan can also have a positive impact on your mood and health. A light breeze helps remove bacteria, dust, and allergens from your immediate workspace, while also keeping you a little stimulated with fresh air on your face. Retailers like Office Max offer a variety of fan sizes, speeds, and capabilities, not to mention price points.
Though your workload may compel you to keep working, taking a break can be invigorating because it changes your focus and awakens muscles that you weren’t using while working. In addition to taking scheduled breaks, it’s generally recommended that you take microbreaks of about two minutes each; they can include anything from stretching your legs, rotating your wrists, going for a quick walk, or maybe doing jumping jacks. The point is to use those muscles or body parts that aren’t getting any stimulation from sitting and typing at your computer desk. Likewise, your eyes need a break: every 15 minutes or so, look past your computer screen at something in the distance. Focus on it for 30 seconds, and then bring your eyes back to your screen. This helps prevent eye strain from the light and distance of your computer screen.
Ergonomically designed accessories like fancy mouses and keyboards aren’t necessary for workstation ergonomics, but they do reduce the chances of developing problems like carpal tunnel syndrome or chronic back pain. If you can’t afford this option, download this free printable checklist for a safe and comfortable computer workstation and change what doesn’t cost you anything, like your posture and seating position. Your health and body will thank you later for taking the time for workstation ergonomics!