Posture: Back pain is one of the most common complaints. *File photo
Posture: Back pain is one of the most common complaints. *File photo

Bermuda is an important hub of international business and with that comes thousands of office workers and their workplaces. 

Many of us in Bermuda ply our trade from behind a desk and spend hours sitting down in front of a computer. 

So if we are spending the majority of the day at our workstation then it is essential to be looking at the ergonomics in the workplace.

Ergonomics is the study of efficiency in working environments. The real purpose of ergonomics today is to make the workplace a better match between the worker, the work they perform and the equipment they use. A good match increases worker productivity and reduces ergonomic injuries.

Ergonomic injuries include repetitive stress injuries, cumulative trauma disorders, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome and the most common of all, lower back pain. I have dealt with all of these complaints with clients through the years but it always surprises me just how many injuries can be caused at the workplace.

After a little research, I discovered that in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34 per cent of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses are work related musculoskeletal disorders like the ones I listed above. 

To prevent this, it is important for company and employee to understand the factors that contribute to these injuries.

Here are the top ten tips for healthy ergonomics in the workplace environment.

Keyboard height

Most keyboard heights are fixed at workstations so you will have to adjust your seat height and body position in relation to the keyboard. Sit with shoulders relaxed and good upright posture, placing hands in a typing position. Now, adjust seat height so elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Ideally, your knees should be bent at 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor.

Footrest

If your knees are higher than your hips and the knee angle is less than 90 degrees then you need a footrest. Choose a footrest that allows your hips and knees to be at 90 degree angles. If your feet are hanging, then this can place excessive pressure on the back of the thighs which compresses the sciatic nerve resulting in tingling, numbness and pain in either the back of the leg, the lower leg or both.

Desk height

Desks designed for writing tend to be too high to use a keyboard comfortably and computer desks are often too low for an ergonomically correct writing position. Therefore, make sure you keep readjusting your chair height accordingly during writing and typing activities. 

Computer screen

Once you have set up your chair, typing position, foot support and desk height the next step is the computer screen. When you are sitting at the desk your eyes should be aligned with the middle of the screen. The distance from the screen should measure no less than 14” (35cm) and no more than 30” (76cm).

Material positioning

Always place reference material as close to your horizontal gaze and computer screen as possible so you can view both using only one eye movement. Document holders that attach to your screen are ideal. A telescopic music stand or bookstand are also useful.

Lower back positioning

Most high quality desk chairs are made with adjustable lumbar support. When positioned correctly, the convex surface of the chair should match the concave curve of your lower spine helping to prevent premature fatigue. If the support is too high, the chair will push you forward, quickly tiring your neck and back muscles making it hard to concentrate. If the support is too low, you will tend to slouch which causes poor concentration and fatigue.

Tilting seat pan

This is recommended when a chair is used for both computer and writing tasks. Tilting forward or backwards by five degrees can cause less fatigue and discomfort than a flat chair. If you do not have a tilting seat pan, consider an air-filled Sitting Disk which enables you to move your pelvis around and hydrates your spinal discs throughout the day.

Keyboard

Chronic exposure to pressure on the underside of the wrist is commonly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain called double crush syndrome and tension in the forearm muscles. Make sure to use a wrist support for optimal comfort. If you have shorter fingers, lift the back of the keyboard and for those with longer fingers, elevate the front of the keyboard to prevent overstraining. Grip strength exercises will also help.

Book stands

Many of us suffer from shoulder, neck and head pain. Part of the problem may be caused by extended periods of reading while in poor posture. Using a bookstand to read will reduce fatigue and promote good posture, increase blood flow to the brain and improve concentration.

Head set

Hours can be spent on the telephone and most of us hold the phone to our heads with our arm or shoulder. Prolonged periods in this position will inevitably lead to neck and shoulder pain. Wireless and remote headsets will eliminate these problems and promote optimal posture while allowing you to move around frequently.