Office Ergonomics - Common Office Injuries

Posted by Meir Hagag on

Musculoskeletal, vision, and hearing problems are common in the workplace. By applying ergonomic solutions, you may be able to reduce physical problems and improve your comfort and ability to work effectively.

Musculoskeletal problems

Your musculoskeletal system is made up of the structures that support you and help you move, such as bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Examples of musculoskeletal problems that may be related to ergonomic issues are:

Solutions. You can reduce your chances of musculoskeletal injuries and be more comfortable and efficient by setting up your workstation and work tools for your own personal needs.

  • Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you. The height should be adjustable, with the top of the screen at about your eye level.
  • A footrest can help support your legs and reduce low back strain, especially if your feet don't rest comfortably flat on the floor.
  • Your chair should have adjustable seat height, back, and arm rests, and a base with five wheels for easy movement without tipping. Lumbar support for your back is helpful. When you sit in your chair, your feet should rest flat on the floor, and your thighs should be parallel to the floor. The edge of the chair should be soft and should not touch the backs of your knees. If you have arm rests, you should be able to use them without slouching or having your shoulders either hunched up or drooping down.
  • Your desk should be large enough to accommodate your work area. Arrange your desk so the items you need most often are within reach, and you don't have to bend or twist frequently.
  • Your keyboard tray should be big enough to hold your keyboard and mouse, and the height should be adjustable.
  • Your computer mouse can be a trackball or touch pad, which may help reduce symptoms some people get from the repetitive motions of a standard computer mouse.
  • The computer mouse should be placed close to the keyboard where it does not cause you to lean forward or to reach too far.
  • Contoured or curved keyboards are designed to help reduce problems in the hands, wrists, and shoulders. They seem to help some people, but there is no good evidence that they reduce symptoms. Wrist pads (also called wrist supports or wrist rests) help support the arms and reduce strain during breaks from typing. The pads are not intended to be used while you are typing. But some people find the pads helpful even when they are using their keyboard or mouse. When you type or use your mouse, try raising your forearms a little so your wrists are in a neutral position and your arms and hands can move freely. If you have arm rests on your chair, you may be able to adjust them so your forearms are parallel to the floor and your wrists are neutral. A neutral position means not bent too far forward or backward. You may want to alternate between resting your wrists on the pads and raising them up. If you use a wrist pad, it's best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand on the support, rather than your wrist.

Good posture will also help prevent musculoskeletal injuries.

  • Stand tall, to keep the natural curves in your back. Slouching increases stress on your back and can also make you feel less energetic. If you stand for long periods, try putting one foot up on a low stool periodically to change your position. Bring reading material up to you, rather than leaning over a low desk.
  • Use good sitting posture. Relax your shoulders, keep your feet flat on the floor, and avoid leaning close to tasks on your desk.
  • Turn your whole body to your task instead of twisting.

If you have to lift, do not use a back belt. Back belts do not reduce strains or other injuries. And they may even increase your chance of injury by making you overconfident, so you try to lift more than you should. To lift safely:

  • Keep the object you want to lift close to you.
  • Bend your knees and keep your back straight as you grasp the object, then straighten your knees to lift it up.
  • Don't try to lift something by yourself that is too heavy, too awkward to carry, or that will not allow you to see where you are walking.
  • Try a "golfer's lift" for very light objects such as a pen or piece of paper. Bend one knee slightly and allow your other leg to come off the floor behind you as you bend over. Hold on to a desk or stable chair for support.

To help prevent falls, keep walkways clear of cords, clutter, and spills. Close drawers completely after you use them. Use stepladders instead of chairs to reach high objects. Report any hazards such as loose carpeting or burned-out lights. And wear shoes appropriate to your job and environment.

Maintain good health through:

  • Regular exercise.
  • Proper nutrition.
  • Not smoking.
  • Following prescribed treatment for any other health conditions you have.

Good general health, including strength and flexibility, can help prevent injuries. It will also help you recover faster if you are injured.

Vision problems

Typical workplace vision problems include:

  • Eye problems from either too little or too much lighting. Poor lighting can lead to:
    • Eye strain and irritation.
    • Watery eyes and red, swollen eyelids.
    • Double vision.
    • Decrease in the ability to focus the eyes and see clearly.
  • Headaches from straining to see clearly.
  • Neck and back pains due to hunching over to see small items.
  • Accidents due to poor lighting, glare, shadows from lighting, or moving from a well-lighted area to a dark area.

Solutions. You can reduce your risk of vision problems from improper lighting with:

  • Full-spectrum lights, which may help reduce eye strain.
  • Task lighting (such as lights above your workstation or on your desk), which can increase the level of light in your office and allow you the flexibility to position the light where it is needed most.
  • Monitor screens that reduce glare, such as plasma screens or removable glare guards.
  • Proper placement of computer screens. Do not place a computer screen in front of or next to a window. This creates a contrast problem and visual stress. If you do sit next to a window, the best placement for your monitor is at a right (90-degree) angle to the window.
  • Window blinds or tinted glass, to reduce sun glare while still allowing filtered light into your office.

It's also a good idea to have an eye examination every 1 or 2 years. If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, you may want to adjust your monitor so that you don't have to tilt your head back to see clearly. Or consider full-frame reading glasses for computer use. There are also progressive lenses available that have a reading prescription at the bottom, a mid-distance prescription that is good for computer use in the middle of the lens, and a long-distance prescription at the top of the lens. The lens has these three types of prescriptions in different areas of the glass and smooth transitions between types of prescriptions.

Noise problems

Noise can produce tension and stress and interfere with your ability to concentrate. And it can damage your hearing.

  • Common office noise sources may include:
    • Equipment, including telephones, computers, and printers.
    • Many people working close together, which leads to more voices and foot traffic around work areas.
    • Noise outside the building that comes through office windows.
  • Even low-level noise can reduce your productivity and increase stress levels, leading to problems with muscles and joints.
  • High-level noise is regulated by Canadian federal and provincial governments, as this type of noise can lead to significant hearing loss.

Solutions. You and your company can reduce your risk for hearing loss or other problems associated with noise levels with:

  • Earplugs, to reduce background noise.
  • Acoustic ceiling tiles, to absorb some noise.
  • Relocation of noisy equipment.
  • Window glass, to block out excessive noise.
  • Carpets, to help absorb foot-traffic and conversational noise.
  • Noise-reducing partitions, to reduce noise around workstations.

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