Ergonomics is the science of designing workplaces to fit the worker, not the other way around. By following some basic ergonomic principles, you can reduce your risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), improve your overall health, and be more productive at work.
To incorporate ergonomic principles, it’s important to adjust your workstation to promote neutral postures. Below are general recommendations, tips, and tools for self-evaluating your own workspace.
Begin by Adjusting Your Environment
Implement ergonomically-sound practices when setting-up computer workstations to enhance comfort and productivity. Use these general guidelines when adjusting your furniture and computers and arranging the workspace. Make individual adjustments, based on your personal preference and comfort. Several adjustments may be necessary over time to find the most comfortable position. Ask a family member to assist you!
Step 1—Adjusting Your Chair
To adjust your chair, begin by facing it away from your workstation. Make the following adjustments based on your chair’s features:
- Chair height so feet are flat on the floor, knees slightly below hips (angle between torso and thighs at 90 degrees or more). Desk too high now? We’ll address that in step 2.
- Seat pan tilt is level or slopes slightly downward. Also, adjust the seat pan depth to allow two fingers widths between the seat cushion and back of knees while sitting. These features are not common on cheaper chairs.
- Backrest angle is slightly reclined and supporting the lumbar region (at or slightly above belt line). If necessary, place pillows, cushions, or a small rolled-up towel in the curve of the lower back. Avoid too much lumbar support as bulky items may decrease your upper back support.
- Armrests slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and fully support arms without being pushed upward. Unsupported arms will cause shoulders to droop.
Step 2—Adjusting Your Desk/Keyboard/Mouse
Leaving your chair at the set position obtained in Step 1, turn your chair toward the keyboard and mouse.
- While sitting with your arms in a relaxed position and resting in your lap, your elbows will be near the recommended height of your keyboard. Adjust the height of your keyboard tray or desk accordingly. If your desk is fixed-height, raise your chair height to make up the difference and add a footrest.
- Adjust keyboard and mouse height and angle so upper arms are nearly vertical and forearms are parallel to the floor. The home row keys should be at the fingertips with your wrists straight in the natural position (allow arms to hang down in a relaxed manner and then raise forearms parallel to floor).
- Adjust your keyboards slope slightly up or down to straighten your wrists, the keyboard should also angle up (positive tilt) if your forearms are angled up, or down (negative tilt), respectively.
- Position mouse as close to the keyboard as possible and at the same height. When possible, use a keyboard tray wide enough to place the mouse adjacent to the keyboard. If the keyboard/mouse is placed on the desktop, it may be necessary to either raise or lower the desk to place the keyboard/ mouse at the right height. If the desktop is too high, place the keyboard on an open desk drawer and/or raise the seat height and use a footrest for support. Some desks can be equipped with an adjustable keyboard/mouse tray.
Step 3—Adjusting Your Monitor
- Position the monitor to minimize glare and reflections from overhead lights and exterior light sources such as windows.
- Place the monitor directly in front of you, with the top of the screen no higher than eye level. Use a monitor pedestal, books, or other stable materials to raise a monitor.
- Place the monitor as far away from you as possible while still while allowing you to easily read the screen—longer distances relax the eyes. Start at an arms distance.
- Choose soothing background colors, such as green, blue, or white. Dark letters on a light background are easier to read.
- Keep the screen clean of by wiping it very lightly every few days with an anti-static cloth or other manufacturer recommended cleaner.
Step 4—Adjusting the Lighting
Computer work areas should have moderate, indirect lighting, about half the level of non-computer work areas. Use task lighting to illuminate documents.
- Reduce overhead lighting by turning off lights or switching to “computer compatible” lamps .
- To minimize glare, turn the monitor perpendicular to light sources and draw window shades or curtains to reduce the level of outside lighting.
Step 5—Adjusting Office Equipment
- Position document holders close to the screen and at the same level and distance from the eye to avoid constant changes in focus. Periodically move the document holder to the opposite side of the screen, reducing static positions.
- Place frequently used items within easy reach to avoid repeated and prolonged bending and reaching.
Step 6—Adjusting Work Practices
- Minimize fatigue and discomfort by alternating tasks and changing body posture often.
- When keyboarding, use a light touch to minimize strain on muscles and tendons. A “wrist rest”, if used, should support the palms of the hands when typing.
- Avoid awkward body positions, (extended reaches and using a shoulder as a telephone rest).
- Take short, frequent rest breaks and longer breaks (several minutes) hourly.
- Blink often and periodically refocus on distant objects to reduce vision fatigue. Use the “20/20” rule—every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Laptop computers generally promote portability over ergonomic principles. Pay special attention when using a laptop to avoid potential problems. The primary challenge for laptop users is the fixed design of the monitor and keyboard – if the monitor is in optimal position then the keyboard will not be and vice versa. This results in a trade-off between poor neck/head posture and wrist/hand posture. For that reason, desktop computer setups are recommended for long-term use over a stand-alone laptop.
Here’s a few recommendations:
- Use the laptop on a desk. Avoid use on a couch or chair for long periods.
- Place the laptop on a riser (books or boxes will work too) or use a separate full-size monitor (see below). Put the top of the screen at eye height.
- Use separate input devices (e.g. keyboards and mouse)
- Use a separate monitor. Monitors have higher resolution, which can reduce eye strain and typically have a height adjustment.
- Take frequent breaks and keep your body moving! Click and print the Safe Work Practice Reminders to use throughout your day.
In-Person Ergonomic Evaluations
EH&S provides in-person and remote ergonomic evaluations upon request. Please notify your supervisor of such requests.
E-mail or call 335-3041 to request an appointment
Individuals are encouraged to complete the self-ergonomic evaluation form below to familiarize themselves with ergonomic concepts and make adjustments prior to an in-person evaluation.
EH&S has developed a step-by-step form for employees to evaluate the ergonomics of their workstation.
Use the guidelines introduced on page 2 to make adjustments and note deficiencies or where improvement can be made. Consider completing the evaluation with the assistance of a coworker which may offer a different perspective.
Training and Other Resources
- WSU Safety Training – Office Ergonomics Module
- Laptop Ergonomics – Youtube
- Home Office Ergonomic Tips – Youtube
- WSU Safety Checklist for Remote Workers
- Home Office Setup Guide – WA DOSH
- Telework Self-Assessment – WA DOSH