Office Ergonomics 



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Ergonomics is the scientific, interdisciplinary study of individuals and their physical relationship to the work environment.

Just as computers have changed the way we work, it is becoming increasingly necessary for us to change the way we operate them. There are concerns over the proper and safe use of computer equipment to prevent injury. Safe computer use, including body posture, typing and mousing methods, and workstation adjustments will help prevent musculoskeletal problems.

In addition to musculoskeletal problems, computer users may experience temporary symptoms such as eye strain, burning eyes, blurred vision, focusing difficulties, and headaches. (see Vision & Eye Strain)

The major causes of strain are:

  • Poor body alignment - take the time to set up your work environment to fit you.
  • Prolonged positions - take a short break every 20 minutes or so to shift positions, walk, stretch
  • Repetitive movements - try to vary your work, so that you use different muscles.
  • Inadequate vision - strains posture as well as eyes - check eyes annually, you may need special glasses

Work performed at computers typically require you to hold yourself still, in static postures, for considerable periods of time while involving small, frequent, repetitive movements of the eyes, head, arms, and fingers. Retaining a fixed posture over long periods of time requires a significant static holding force, which causes fatigue.

Proper work station design is very important in eliminating these types of problems. Some variables of work station design include the computer table, chair, and document holder. Your work station should provide you with a comfortable sitting position that is sufficiently flexible to reach, use, and observe the display screen, keyboard, and related documents. Some general considerations to minimize fatigue include posture support (back, arms, legs, and feet), and adjustable display screens and keyboards. Computer tables or desks should be vertically adjustable to allow for operator adjustment of the screen and keyboard. Proper chair height and support to the lower region of the back are critical factors in reducing fatigue and related musculoskeletal complaints. Document holders also allow the operator to position and view material without straining the eyes, neck, shoulder, and back muscles.

Following below are a collection of hyperlinks to a variety of websites dealing with additional ergonomic and associated issues relating to avoiding and dealing with RSIs in the office environment. 

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Motion Based Ergonomics™ Keyboard Retraining, Norman J. Kahan, MD, and Vivienne Griffin
Over the years, computer-related injuries have increasingly plagued the modern office workplace, debilitating hundreds of thousands of workers, causing pain, impairment and, in some cases, disability. The vast majority of computer-related injuries can be attributed to specific faulty movements and awkward postures inherent in the act of typing, which may cause fatigue, inflammation of muscles or tendons, compression or entrapment of nerves, as well as pain or weakness in the upper limbs and neck. Recognizing and correcting these movements is at the heart of a new and emerging field known as keyboard retraining, a largely overlooked but critical component in the fight against RSI.

Motion Based Ergonomics™ Keyboard Retraining, Part II: "Mousing", Norman J. Kahan, MD, and Vivienne Griffin
In recent years, the mouse has become an integral tool for most computer programs as well as for working “on line”. Unfortunately, as computer users have become more dependent on mouse input devices, the number of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) related to the mouse has been on the rise. Most of these injuries can be traced back to both faulty movements and awkward postures when using the mouse. To complicate matters, the number of “mice” now include many options, including traditional a two or three button mouse, (mechanical or optical) trackball, mouse pen, joy stick, touch pad and glide point. There are even foot and head mice. The following pitfalls and guidelines apply to whichever mouse you choose to use. Remember, gadgets alone won’t prevent the development of RSI, but learning how to use them properly can.

Guidelines for Laptop Computer Users, Vivienne Griffin, and Norman J. Kahan, MD
Today, many computer users have turned to convenient portable laptops as either an adjunct to their work stations, or as an alternative to a desk top computer. Just as desktop computers have specific guidelines and recommendations for safe and healthy use, so do laptops. The following is a list of things to consider and try to promote and ensure comfort when using them.

Alternative Keyboards- A User Survey by K.S.Wright, MS
Results of a 1996 alternative keyboard user survey representing users of a wide variety of alternative keyboard brands and types.

Empowering Workers to Prevent Terminal Illness
International Labour Organization: Information Technology and Communications 

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More Information

Office Ergonomics by Chris Grant, PhD, CPE
This site collects and publishes some "handouts" that have been widely used in training courses aimed exclusively at office workers, as well as ergonomists who work with office workers.  The handouts have received good reviews with respect to their clarity, objectivity, and scientific basis.  Some have been published in slightly different form in book chapters and manuals.  We are pleased to share them with you.

HealthyComputing.com was founded in 1999 to address the growing problem of computer-related injuries. The brainchild of its three founders, Michael Abramson, Daniel Eisman, and Alan Hedge, HealthyComputing has since welcomed many of the premier physicians, researchers, and injury prevention consultants from around the country. Today, it is the joint effort of nearly a dozen top Ergonomists, Physicians, and Physical Therapists

IBM - Healthy Computing
IBM's Healthy Computing site includes valuable information on how to organize your workspace effectively as well as providing some more in-depth human factors research papers (UK's PC Magazine).
(news) (set up) (vision) (display) (comfort) (environment) (accessories) (other info sources)

Computer Related Repetitive Strain Injury
I am not a health care professional, but I hope on this page to provide a very brief introduction to RSI for the benefit of students who may not be aware of the potential for a life-altering injury. It includes book references and links to Internet resources that have been helpful in educating me about this. Don't hesitate to get in touch by e-mail, but because I have to limit my own computer use, please take the time to consult the entire page and the listed materials at length first. -Paul Marxhausen
(RSI & Musicians) (Changes I've Made) (Products & Services) (FindADoc)

University of Virginia - VDT Ergonomics Training and Resources
The following links lead to educational hypermedia and information about defining and evaluating ergonomic risks, creating ergonomically appropriate workstations and preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (CTD's). These documents have been created by the members of the UVa Ergonomics Task Force. The information contained within them is believed to be reliable and current but we make no guarantee and assume no responsibility as to its absolute correctness for all circumstances. You may reproduce or adapt this information provided the original meaning is preserved and copies are not offered for sale. The University of Virginia shall be acknowledged in the copies.

3M's Office Ergonomics Self-Help Site  
This educational program teaches the fundamentals of office ergonomics, including physical, environmental and emotional elements. It suggests improvements that individuals can apply to customize their workstations and tasks. Since each work situation is unique, these suggestions are presented only as a guideline.

WorkSpace Resources' Ergonomic Issues  
Ergonomics is the study of the human body at work. As a science, it has its roots in the industrial revolution. The sea change occurring in industry as a result of the growth in information technology has changed the focus of Ergonomics from factories to offices and from machines that mimic the human body to machines that mimic the human mind.

University of Texas, Austin ­ The General Libraries' Ergonomics Task Force  
This page is an attempt to gather and make available some of the more useful sources of ergonomics information that are available on the Internet. It is intended to supplement other documentation or programs that the General Libraries Ergonomics Task Force may produce or make available for library staff.

ErgoLib for Safer Library Computing  
Working in a library can be hard, physical work. And working with computers, mice, and monitors requires many of the same skills that successful athletes have. Get informed and start planning your own training program by checking out the following web sites and our list of quick, cheap tips.

Professional Ergonomic Solutions - Ergonomics 101
Ergonomics 101 is intended to provide you with a quick and effective reference of Ergonomic information and products currently available.

Tips for Healthy Computer Use!
UCSF/UCB Ergonomics Program's guide to help you set up your computer and develop good work habits so that you can be productive and comfortable when using the computer.

Carnegie Mellon University ­ EGO's Ergonomics Manual 

VDT Solutions

Repetitive Strain Injuries - The Hidden Cost of Computing

Ergonomics at Work
Combo: Ergonomic & Contract Furnishings

Computer-Related Ergonomics Information and Products
Agile Corporation

ZDNet on Working at Home which includes Ergonomics

Yahoo - Science : Engineering : Ergonomics  

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Last Updated: 01/11/02