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Workstation Ergonomics

I am no expert in Workstation Ergonomics, this is just my recent experience. If you want or need ergonomic advice for your workstation, find a professional and do what they say. No-one is immune from this.

While I have been working in I.T. for over 12 years, I also spent a number of years before then, in front of a computer for most of my business/study hours and a good portion of my recreation time. Over the years I have experienced a number of symptoms of bad Workstation ergonomics, computer setup and general life.

The first indication that I was not looking after myself in front of a PC began with wrist pain where my wrist was rubbing on the desk with mouse use. This turns out to be a common problem, easily solved with a gel wrist rest.

The next ergonomic issue was pain under my elbow. It turns out that using my mouse right handed with a desk with a left hand return meant I was supporting my elbow by turning my arm so the elbow didnt bend due to gravity putting long term strain on the ligaments. Problem solved by changing to a desk with a right hand return and resting my forearm on the return to use the mouse.

Lower back pain followed, a combination of bad workstation ergonomics, extended periods of sitting, poor posture, lack of regular exercise and cheap seats. I now have a Therapod ergonomic chair, get out of the chair regularly (set a timer on your computer), try to sit up straight and I walk a lot (walking is the best thing you can do for lower back pain). Use a foot rest to keep the right angles on your hips, make sure the seat height is right for shoulder and elbow angles.

The latest ergonomic issues directly related to working with a computer are bad neck posture. I didnt realise but I was holding my head forward when in front of the PC putting a lot of strain on my neck. My monitor was too low and as my second monitor was my laptop screen, I was twisting my neck a lot to look at the second screen as well as looking down too much. Talking with my physiotherapist has made it clear that dual monitors can be a major ergonomic issue for necks. The recommendation for dual monitors is to swivel the chair, not your head and if using the second screen for any period of time, move the keyboard and mouse to suit at the same time. I have now purchased a dual monitor stand to keep my screens at the right height and close together. My secondary screen is in portrait mode which discourages me from using it for general use but makes it a lot more comfortable reading documents. If you have high resolution screens (most widescreen monitors are now “full HD” or 1920×1080 pixels), make sure they are not too far away to read small text or you will move your head closer to compensate. The downside is that once they are close enough to read comfortably, make sure you rest your eyes regularly by looking to the distance every few minutes or your eyes may deteriorate. Dont get glossy screens for anything, they look very pretty but glare, especially from flourescent office lighting can be really bad. Unfortunately I left a lot of this too late. I always had matte screens, and rest my eyes regularly but with my bad neck posture, I now have a bulging disc in my neck pushing into my spinal column. Thankfully it is not bad and will be able to be sorted with regular (rest of my life) stretching and exercises but the pain when it flared up was unbearable. Do yourself a favour, get your workstation set up right and watch your neck posture, prevention in this case is infintely better than having to find the cure.

Update March 2014:
Now I stand! That’s right, now I have a standing height workstation. It takes a bit of getting used to and you need good shoes and anti-fatigue mats to stop getting sore feet. Weight has dropped, posture is better and I move around a lot more during the day. If you have the space, try it out.

Posted in: Business

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