Workstation Ergonomics

Photo credit: By Vanessa Day in her article

Prolonged use of computers usually involve awkward postures, repetitive and forceful action that can lead to muscle injuries and nerve damage. The injuries may develop overtime and one might not notice until it’s too late. Therefore if you have to use a computer extensively be sure to adjust your workstation and posture while working to avoid occupational injuries.


Some of the symptoms of computer-related injuries to watch out for include sore wrists, numb/painful fingers, lower back pain, blurry vision and headaches. Other areas that may also be affected include neck, shoulder, thighs and legs.

The best way to understand how to set up your working station is to first understand the natural positioning of the body. This is a position in which your body joints are naturally aligned. Below are some ergonomic tips that one can incorporate to reduce the chances of developing injuries.

Workstation layout

  1. Chair and desk

Maintaining a good posture while working at a computer is extremely vital for everyone. Though there is no single defined position try as much as possible to maintain a natural posture to make sure that you are not straining your body. To do this:

  • Use a fully adjustable chair. You should be able to adjust your seat height, backrest, pan and tilt. Your chair should also have a well-formed lower back support.
  • Regularly adjust your tilt to maintain a comfortable posture. It can be horizontal although others prefer to tilt their seats either forward or backwards a bit.
  • Adjust the height of the chair so that your elbows are bent at 900 and are parallel with the floor. Your wrists should be straight and your shoulders relaxed.
  • Adjust the backrest such that you are sitting upright and your lower back is supported. You can use a pillow if necessary.
  • The height of your seat should allow your feet to rest flat on the floor and your knees to be the same height as or slightly lower than your hips. You can use a footrest to support your feet more so if your feet don’t reach the floor.
  1. Keyboard and Mouse

When using the keyboard and mouse your wrists should be in a neutral position. A good keyboard should accommodate the mouse and have you should be able to adjust its height and tilt.

  • Position your keyboard such that your hands will be in line with your forearm.
  • Maintain your arms above the keyboard (and wrist rest if using one) when typing.
  • Avoid resting your wrists on the table’s hard surface as you will end up bending your wrists (either up or down).
  • If you prefer to use a wrist rest to support your wrists also avoid bending your wrists on them. Avoid resting on the wrist rest when typing, they should be used to rest your hands between keystrokes. Wrist rests should not be higher than your keyboard space bar.
  • Use a protective pad to protect your elbows if you need to.
  • The keyboard should be directly in front of your body and make sure to pull up to it. Make sure to leave enough space to use the mouse though.
  • Have your elbows at approximately 1000-1100. Tilt your keyboard slightly if you need to. When you are in an upright position slightly tilt the keyboard away from you (negative tilt) or vice versa (positive tilt) when you are reclined. The key is to maintain a relaxed posture.
  • Use a sizeable mouse as a large one may cause you wrists to bend uncomfortably.
  • Position the mouse close to the keyboard.
  • Release your grip on the mouse every once in a while to release pressure.
  • If you do not have an adjustable keyboard you can adjust the height of your workstation instead or your chair.
mousing ergonomics
Photo credit: By Vanessa Day in her article
  1. Monitor

The monitor should be positioned in a way such that it is centered directly in front of you to avoid awkward postures. You should be able to keep your neck in a neutral position while viewing it.

  • Place it at an arm’s length so that you can easily focus on the screen. Those who wear bifocal or multi-focal need to adjust it to their most comfortable distance.
  • It should be placed at a height that allows your neck to be straight while viewing it. The top of the screen should be at or below eye level and the bottom can be viewed without distinct head inclination. Tip; your eyes should be leveled with the tool bar.
  • Avoid placing the screen near light sources. Try as much as possible to make sure that neither the operator nor the screen is facing the light source. If this cannot be avoided try tilting the screen so that the reflection is directed below the eye level. Also adjust blinds as needed.
  • Adjust the brightness of the screen so that it is neither too bright nor too dark.
  1. Document holder

Computer work means that once in a while you will need to refer to source documents. Use a copy stand to position source documents them directly in front of you between the screen and the keyboard. If there is not enough space use a document holder adjacent to the screen.

  • Position the document such that there is minimized the head and eye movements between the screen and the source document.
  • Ensure that the adjustable document holder is at the same height and distance as the screen. Consider the side and thickness of your source documents when buying the document holder.
  • Avoid excessive reaching. Frequently used items should be within your reach preferably within the reach of both hands.
  • Certain copy holders can double up as writing surfaces if positioned correctly.
  1. Phone

A number of times an operator will need to use the computer and the phone at the same time. Consequently they end up positioning their heads, necks and back awkwardly trying to use both devices at the same time. This is done when they cradle the phone between the shoulder and the neck in order to free their hands to use the computer.

  • Use a headset or put the phone on loud speaker to avoid cradling it.
  • The phone should be placed within easy reach to avoid over reaching.
Photo credit: By Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in their article


Additional working techniques

No matter how well your workstation has been set up or how good your posture is keeping the body in one prolonged posture will wear the body out. Try making slight movements from time to time.

  • Adjust the position of your neck, shoulder, back and legs. You can do this by reclining your chair or sitting upright. Flex your wrist, hands, neck, shoulder and legs.
  • Take short breaks every now and then. After every 30 minutes you can take two minute poses and after every hour take 5 minute breaks. Get up from your chair and move around. Try stretching your hands over your head.
  • Switch up tasks to avoid doing repetitive movements for long periods of time.
  • Keep your fingers relaxed when keying in and hit the keys gently.
  • Avoid holding a pen or objects when using the keyboard as it puts your hands in an awkward position.
  • Hold the mouse lightly and from time to time, remove your hand from the mouse and flex it.
  • About every 20 minutes remove your eyes and focus on an object away from the computer, approximately 20 feet.
  • Avoid hunt and peck typing techniques, mostly seen in unskilled users. This is because it tends to exert pressure on particular finger therefore chances of developing occupational injuries are high. It also strains the neck muscles in the ‘hunting’ movement.
  • Ensure your head and neck are in line with your torso.
  • Ensure your shoulders are relaxed and your arms hung normally at the side of your body.
  • Ensure your elbows are close to your body and are supported. They should be bent at around 900.
  • Ensure your lower back (lumbar) should is supported. Use a pillow if necessary.
  • Ensure your wrists, hands and forearms are in line and approximately parallel to the floor. Use wrist rest if necessary.
  • Ensure your feet are flat on the floor. Use a footrest if necessary.
  • Ensure your thighs and hips are parallel to the floor. Use a footrest if necessary.
  • Ensure your knees are about the same height as your hips. Use a foot rest if necessary.

Remember you are most productive and efficient at work when you are comfortable.


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