Workplace ergonomics

with advice from Darren Bayliss, PT, CEAS

Workplace ergonomics

More than ever before, Americans are sitting in front of computers for hours at a time, whether at work or at play. Have you thought about how your posture at your desk or the layout of your workspace can affect your health?

Darren Bayliss, a physical therapist with Maximum Impact Physical Therapy (a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic in Arizona), consults with workers and companies to prevent injury and improve workspaces. He focuses on personal ergonomics, “targeting the individual’s posture, postural habits and movement patterns.” He notes that incorrect posture and movement can eventually lead to injury, underlining the importance of proactive workplace evaluations — evaluating your own or your company’s workspaces before someone files for workers’ comp.

Darren lists the following as the most common mistakes he sees in an office workspace:

  • Monitor is set too low or too high
  • Keyboard is placed too close or far away from the user
  • Desk supplies, e.g., mouse, phone, calculator, are not within easy reach
  • Chair doesn’t fit user correctly
  • Monitor is offset to the right or left

If you’re trying to improve your workspace on your own, or if you’re moving into a new cubicle and looking for tips, OSHA has posted a handy checklist to use when setting up your desk. Some of the tips include:

Arrange your workstation so that it allows for proper posture for doing computer tasks. This includes having your monitor set at a height that allows your head and neck to be upright and facing forward. Your upper arms and elbows should be close to your body, rather than having to reach outward to type or use your mouse, and your wrists and hands should be straight, not bent up or down. And your chair height should be set so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and the lower legs are perpendicular to the floor.

Arrange your workstation so that it allows for proper posture.

Evaluate your furniture and workspace. Your chair should provide lumbar support and be cushioned. Its size should match its user (i.e., is the seat not too big or small, but just right?), and the seat should be short enough that it doesn’t press against the backs of the knees or the lower legs. Your monitor should be at the height where you can use it without raising or lowering your head (including if you wear bi- or trifocals) and at a distance where you can read the screen without leaning forward or back. If you use the phone often, you should be able to take calls without craning your shoulder or neck to hold the earpiece; you may want to consider using a headset to avoid such issues.

If you often sit for hours, remember to take frequent breaks and to move around in order to give your body a break. Think about incorporating stretches like these recommended by Presidio Sport and Medicine, a Physiquality network clinic in San Francisco, to help relax your muscles after remaining static for long periods of time. Even the simple standing stretch (stand, reach your arms above your head and stretch towards the ceiling for 5-10 seconds) will create blood flow and help you feel better (and could even give you more energy to tackle that next project).

Habits at home can affect how you feel at work.Darren also reminds workers that habits at home can affect how you feel at work. He advises thinking about how long you watch TV, play video games, read, talk on the phone or text with your friends; these activities, he says, “can transition to the workplace, which could explain why some traditional ergonomic corrections are short-lived or not effective.”

People who work on their feet all day can also apply these ergonomic measures to their workspaces; Darren notes that there are ways to ease the strain of being on your feet all day. He suggests using a shock-absorbing mat underfoot, plus shoes with the proper cushioning and support. Proper posture is essential to minimizing back and neck problems. And he advises that workers who stand all day should evaluate their workspaces to minimize bending, turning or straining to reach for tools.

Darren Bayliss, PT, CEAS, is a physical therapist with Maximum Impact Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic with four locations in Arizona. A certified ergonomic assessment specialist, Darren is a lecturer and presenter on the topic and consults on workplace injury prevention and management.

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For further reading:

Dealing with lower back pain. Physiquality, September 20, 2012.

Green, Erin. Workplace ergonomics. Presidio Sport and Medicine.

Stand up straight! Physiquality, December 2, 2011.

Wellness @ work. Physiquality, October 3, 2011.

Computer station safety checklist. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, January 1, 2008.

Physical therapy corner: Office ergonomics — a guide to a healthier, more productive and happier work environment. Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, March 8, 2007.

Posture and work station tips. The Spine Center, Columbia University Medical Center.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

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