Office Ergonomics for a Healthy Barrel

By on July 5th, 2012

Working at Barrel usually means sitting in the same position for many hours straight. While we get up occasionally for restroom breaks, lunch time, or walking to and from the conference room, most of our day is spent on our butts.

It sounds like it’s not a big deal, but poor ergonomic practices can lead to injuries: carpel tunnel syndrome, neck strain, lower back pain, leg pain and death.

Okay, maybe not death, but I wanted that dramatic punch.

What is “Ergonomics”?

Ergonomics is the study of the kind of work you do and the environment you work in. It strives to make the workplace as comfortable as possible, minimizing stress on the body and preventing work-related injuries.

Ergonomics applies to both those workplaces where daily activities include manual labor, and workplaces where people sit at a desk all day. Since Barrel falls into the second category, this post will only focus on that kind of workplace.

To study the ergonomics of your workplace, look at things like:

  1. How you sit
  2. Your workstation setup
  3. How long you stay in one position
  4. The light, air flow, and temperature of your work area

Now that you have a basic understanding of what office ergonomics is, let’s look at how you can put it into practice.

Set Up Your Workstation

Credits to CAP Workplace Ergonomics Reference Guide

Ideally, your workstation should look like this. I’ll break it down by different parts of a typical office workstation.

Monitor

You should have a viewing angle of 35-40 degrees.

When you’re sitting straight, your eyes should be aligned to the top of your monitor without having to bend your neck. You should be 16-24″ away from the monitor (roughly arms length), with a viewing angle of 35-40° from the top of the monitor to the bottom.

Make sure your monitor is directly in front of you, so you don’t have to twist your neck to look at the screen. Staying in an awkward position like this for six hours can cause major neck strains.

Tips:

  1. Tilt the top of the monitor back 10-20°
  2. The monitor should be at right angles with windows and positioned away from direct lighting to reduce glare
  3. Consider using a glare filter
Chair

Throughout the day, many of us end up scooting to the front of our chairs and slouching over to look at the screen. Instead, sit with your back against the chair and shoulders touching the backrest to support your lower back, shoulders, and neck. If your chair doesn’t fit your body shape, use a rolled towel or lumbar pad for support.

Your legs should be bent 90 degrees, with your thighs parallel with the floor. Your feet flat on the floor or on foot rests (Zack uses business card boxes as his foot rests!).

Tips:

  1. There should be 2-3 inches between the back of your knees and the edge of your seat
  2. Adjust the height and width of armrests so you can drop/relax your shoulders while typing
  3. Your knees should be at about the same level as your hips
Keyboard and Mouse

The best placement of the keyboard and mouse is 1-2 inches above your legs. This usually requires a keyboard tray. Forearms should be parallel to the floor to allow the shoulders to relax.

To avoid stress on wrists, they should be in a neutral, straight position (not flexed or twisted). Remember not to rest your wrists on the table while you type or use the mouse; keep them in the air or use a wrist rest.

When you’re not using the mouse, don’t rest your hands on it. Instead, rest your hands on your lap.

Environment

It’s kind of common sense, but your office should be set up with comfortable temperature and lighting, good air quality, and proper air circulation. Cover your windows to reduce glare and minimize eye strain.

Take Breaks

Zack shooting the mini basketball into the mini hoop.

Most office-related injuries happen from staying in the same position for too long. Our body is able to handle 20 minutes of the same position at a time; staying in one position for any longer than that causes discomfort and builds up stress.

To prevent eye strain, blink constantly and try to expose your eyes to natural light. Every 20 minutes, refocus your eyes away from the computer screen to a window or an object at least 25 feet away.

Also, give your body a break by taking walks around the block or standing up every 20-45 minutes. Adjust your posture from time to time, play ping pong/mini basketball and do some stretching exercises! Here are some stretches you can do during the workday:

Shoulder Shrug
  1. Bring your shoulders up to your ears for 3 seconds
  2. Slowly rotate it back and down
  3. Repeat 20 times
Foot Rotation
  1. Slowly rotate each foot in circles while sitting 3 times in one direction
  2. Repeat 3 times in the opposite direction
Diagonal Neck Stretch

Photo from ORS

  1. Look down at a slight angle for 15 seconds as if looking at your pocket
  2. Repeat 3 times on each side
Eye Palming

Give your eyes a break

  1. Rest elbows at the edge of your desk
  2. Cup your hands gently over your closed eyes, letting your weight fall into your hands
  3. Inhale slowly through nose and hold for 4 seconds
  4. Continue deep breathing for 1 minute

Final Tips

The best way to prevent negative consequences from sitting all day long is to simply alternate positions. Exercise both in and out of the workplace. Try to change up your tasks; if you’ve been designing for a while, take a client call or get up to water the office plants. And don’t slouch!

Resources

Here are some great resources for learning about office ergonomics:

CAP Workplace Ergonomics Reference Guide
Office of Research Services
Spine Health
WebMD Office Ergonomics

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