What you need to know about office ergonomics

What you need to know about office ergonomics

Do your feet ache after a long day at office work? Does your back hurt when you sit in your work chair? Both aching feet and back problems might be a result of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that are created or aggravated by workplace conditions. If you work in an office, some basic safety measures might help eliminate occasional aches and body pains, and perhaps even avoid future musculoskeletal disorders. This article outlines the basic safeguards and ergonomic practices for the workplace.

The term ergonomics is taken from the Greek language and combines words meaning work and natural laws. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) currently has ergonomic guidelines for poultry processing, meat packing plants, the nursing home industry, and retail grocery stores. OSHA is in the process of conducting public hearings to collect information to create recommendations for additional fields, but other organizations have researched workplace conditions and have issued recommendations.


Any worker who is employed in an occupation that repeats an action for prolonged periods is in danger of musculoskeletal disorders. If your job asks you to put letters into envelopes, use a computer keyboard, or to sit or stand while moving from one station to another, you might be at risk to develop MSDs. Most hazards can be avoided by using a few easy techniques.

How to Avoid Potential office Work Injuries

Use Ergonomically Designed Equipment

If you do much of your daily work on the computer, check out ergonomically designed keyboards. These keyboards have a curved design where the wrists are supported and the hands are held in a more natural position compared to traditional keyboards that have a flat, straight design. The ergonomic keyboards are available in several sizes so that the typist can find one that fits comfortably.

Even staplers and ink pens are available in cushioned versions to avoid strain and potential injury. These are available online and from office and stationary stores.

Sit in an Appropriate Chair

Sitting all day in the same chair can cause problems if your chair is not appropriate for your body and the type of work that you do. Extremely tall or short people are particularly susceptible to injuries from using an ill-fitting chair. If your job asks you to do a repetitive task using one hand or arm while seated, make sure the chair allows you to interchange right and left hands and arms for this task.

If this can’t be arranged, make sure your seating arrangement is designed for your hand choice (a right-handed sorter for a right-handed worker). Recommendations for chairs include adjustments for height, tilt, and armrests. The recommendations also include the seat size allowing at least one-half inch of space on all sides. If your job requires your head to be focused in one position for most of the day, your chair should have an attached adjustable headrest.

Take Breaks

Break every 15 minutes, even if it is to stand at your desk while working. Look away from the computer screen every few minutes. This can be done by integrating the types of work you do each day. If you need to read the material, break up the reading duties by using the computer or dropping off mail at a coworker’s desk. Even a five-minute break or a quick walk to the supply room will provide needed relief.

Select an Appropriate Desk

The regular work desk can be an appropriate ergonomic desk if it is the correct height for the type of work you do and the height of your chair. When typing, your elbows should be able to touch the sides of your body without stretching or reaching downward. If your chair adjusts, then bring the height of the chair up so that your arms can easily reach the desktop.

If the chair has arms that limit moving the chair close to the desk, then select a different chair. Sitting away from your desk and leaning into your work, might create health problems. Most offices have a selection of desks and chairs so that workers can find an appropriate match in height of both chairs and desks. Look for the same manufacturers for a perfect ergonomic fit.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

This might sound like odd advice, but clothing can create ergonomic problems for office workers. If the majority of your day is spent sitting at a chair in front of a desk, footwear is an important ergonomic concern. Tight socks or shoes can create circulation problems. Pants with tight cuffs or narrow bottoms can also create the same type of injuries if worn over a long period of time.

Check to see if the clothing fits in the same manner when you change positions. When you are seated in a chair, a loose-fitting pant leg might ride up on the calf and create a tight-fitting, injury threatening outfit. Many times workers don’t realize that clothes can create hazards. If you feel sore or have particular pains when you return from work, note the clothing you are wearing that day. It may be a source of the problem.

Avoid Inappropriate Lighting and Glare

Most people are concerned about screen glare from computer screens, but lighting in offices should be also appropriate for reading. Consider using a desk lamp, if lighting is limited in your office space. Write on light pink, green or yellow colored legal pads or paper to reduce glare from the lights. If you read notes from others, ask them to write on the colored paper to avoid glare.

Glare filters can be placed over computer monitors. Read up on specific filters to make sure the one you select fits your office conditions. If you wear glasses, a special glare-reducing treatment can be done to the glass to cut down on glare. Many insurance companies cover these types of special glasses, even if you don’t normally wear glasses.

Ergonomically Designed Floor Coverings

Your chair is adjusted correctly. Your desk fits perfectly. The last main consideration is your feet. Where are your feet? Both feet should be able to sit firmly on the floor — without dangling. If this is not possible, consider putting your feet on a phone book or purchasing a special foot stand.

What type of flooring is under your desk or workstation? If you stand for the majority of your day, the flooring should have adequate cushioning to ensure that you do not develop leg problems. The flooring under your desk should also provide appropriate cushioning.

Additional Information

If you are interested in information about the legal requirements for the workplace, check the US Department of Labor, Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for a detailed list of requirements for various work fields. The ergonomic health you improve might just be your own!

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