The Essential Guide to Ergonomics in the Workplace
No matter where you work or what your industry is, attention to ergonomics is crucial for optimum health, productivity, and workplace wellness. Ergonomic specialist and consultant George Chiang defines ergonomics in simple terms as “the design of the workplace for optimal human efficiency and health.”
FlexJobs tapped Chiang—who is also senior editor of Ergonomic Trends, which offers ergonomic consulting and resources on office health—to identify some of the most important points to consider regarding workplace ergonomics.
“Ergonomics in the workplace is critical because of the cumulative effects of sitting and repetitive motions,” explained Chiang. “Even small movements like moving your wrist to operate a mouse can have negative consequences when it’s sustained for hours on end every day.”
To help nip these potential problems in the bud, refer to the following pointers from Chiang as a guide to best practices for ergonomics in the workplace, either at work or at home.
Elements of an Ergonomic Workspace
For both traditional employees at at-home workers, having a proper ergonomic workspace is key to your health and productivity. Chiang explained that three key elements—using the right ergonomic chair, developing good sitting posture, and avoiding poor computer posture—should factor in to your workspace design and habits to ensure that you’re not only set up for success, but that you avoid repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Below are Chiang’s basic tips in each of these three areas:
The first point to clarify about ergonomic chairs is: what are they, exactly? “An ergonomic chair is one that not only follows best practices in terms of proven ergonomic design, but is highly adjustable to cater to different people’s individual body size and needs,” explained Chiang.
Some key elements to consider when selecting a good ergonomic chair include ensuring that your chair offers not only adjustable seat height, but also adjustable arm support, seat depth adjustment, and backrest angle adjustment. Some ergonomic chairs also offer neck support, as well as adjustability in their backrest height and lumbar support.
Chiang highlights the following qualities to look for in an ergonomic chair apart from the basic seat height adjustment:
- Seat depth that is adjustable to accommodate different body sizes
- Armrests that are length and angle adjustable
- Backrest that tilts, is lockable, and comes with tilt tension control
- Backrest that is height adjustable to cater to people with varying torso lengths
- Headrest, if needed, should be height and angle adjustable.
When you think about how long the average office or remote worker spends seated in front of a computer, it quickly becomes clear why having proper sitting posture can make or break your health. If you spend eight or more hours a day stationed at your desk, you better be sure that the way you’re sitting facilitates proper ergonomics; otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with ailments such as muscle aches and fatigue and even cardiovascular issues, according to Chiang.
“When it comes to good sitting posture, one of the main things to keep in mind is that you should sit with a straight back, with the backrest angled at around 100 to 110 degrees,” he said.
Chiang provided the following additional tips for proper sitting posture:
- Keep your neck upright to minimize pressure being exerted from the weight of your head.
- Configure your seat depth so there is a 1-2 inch gap between end of your thighs and seat edge.
- Make sure your two feet are fully touching the floor and not dangling. Use a footrest if needed.
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed, which impedes blood pressure. Get up and move periodically instead.
Computer posture goes beyond how you’re positioned in your chair to include other elements such as your wrist position and the height of your monitor. Laptop usage is another consideration, particularly if you work from home.
Chiang explained that if you’re working on a computer, you can make the following adjustments to prevent poor computer posture:
- Adjust your chair height so your elbows form a 90-100 degree open angle with the desk surface.
- Keep your wrist at a straight neutral position when typing. Rest on a wrist pad occasionally if needed.
- Adjust the height of the monitor so the top line is at eye level.
- For laptops, use a laptop stand to prop up the screen so it’s at eye level. Then use an external keyboard to avoid wrist extension when typing.
Workplace Ergonomics Best Practices
Now that you have your ergonomic office set up for success at home or at your company office, you can ensure optimum health and productivity by developing a few simple habits and making small but impactful adjustments in your work routine. Chiang highlights the following additional ergonomic considerations as best practices that everyone should follow:
Take hourly breaks to stretch and move.
As noted by Chiang, “The human body simply wasn’t designed to sit for prolonged periods of time.” Chiang recommends taking frequent and brief rest breaks, at least one break per hour when working. “During these breaks, you can walk or do some light stretching,” he said.
Alternate between sitting and standing.
“If you have access to a standing desk or even just a desk riser, alternate between sitting and standing periodically,” said Chiang. “The ideal ratio between the two is 1:1 to 1:3 according to the latest studies. This means you should sit and stand for 30 minutes each, or at a maximum, sit for 15 minutes and stand for 45 minutes afterwards.”
Rest your eyes using 20-20-20.
“To prevent eye fatigue, a simple rule to follow is the 20-20-20 rule,” said Chiang. “Basically, every 20 minutes, look outside 20 feet away for 20 seconds.”
Set your environment with the right lighting, temperature, and air quality.
“Proper lighting, good air quality, and suitable room temperature are also important parts of good workplace ergonomics,” said Chiang.
If you work in a company office, talk to your supervisor or HR about whether the following elements can be adjusted if needed; if you work from home, note that you can purchase a single-room air purifier.
“For lighting, the U.S. General Services Administration recommends 500 lumens of lighting per square meter,” explained Chiang. “In the office, prioritize natural and cool lighting with a high Kelvin index to help keep alert and productive. Monitor the air quality in the office periodically for indoor air pollutants such as mold. Apart from addressing the source, install indoor air purifiers to manage air quality.”
By taking the time to follow these workplace ergonomics basics, you can optimize your space for better health, performance, comfort, and productivity.
Finding Ergonomic Office Equipment
FlexJobs compiled a list of our top picks for ergonomic office items. This list includes recommendations for standing desks, chairs, wrist rests, footrests, monitors, and more. Every product is conveniently available on Amazon. Check out the list to help you create the ideal ergonomic workspace!
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
This is a version of an article that was originally published on June 29, 2017.
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Robin Madell, Corporate/Executive Writer
Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributor to the On Careers section of U.S. News & World Report…Read More >
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