Office workers who spend the majority of their day sitting in one position or engaged in repetitive activities can be at increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. Not only do these injuries make work more difficult, over time, they can decrease productivity and increase absenteeism as well as medical claim costs for the company. For this reason, it is important to help each employee set up an ergonomic workstation that enables him or her to maintain proper posture and alignment during the entire workday. Implementing a few low-cost changes at each workstation can help prevent costly injuries in the future. (Learn more in "The Importance of Setting Up Ergonomic Workstations for Office Workers".)
What are Ergonomic Aids?
Ergonomic aids are tools designed to help employees maintain a neutral posture throughout the day. This means back straight and supported, arms, hands and wrists straight, supported and parallel to the floor, and legs bent at a 90 degree angle with both feet flat on the ground. This is important in order to avoid long-term health problems or discomfort. There are a variety of tools available, each geared toward a specific working environment, from drivers (Learn more in "8 Important Ergonomic Aids for Drivers".) to industrial workers to those who spend their day at a desk and reduce injuries like lower back pain and those from overreaching (hyperflexion). (Learn more in "A Look at Lower Back Pain in the Workplace".) In order to be most effective, the ergonomic aids offered to employees should be tailored to their individual characteristics, job requirements, and any preexisting physical condition. The best way to ensure that tools are tailored to individual needs is by conducting a full workstation evaluation.
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10 Important Ergonomic Aids
With this in mind, here are 10 important ergonomic aids that can help create a safe and comfortable workstation for employees who work in an office, keeping in mind that most aids are designed to fit 95% of the population so if your worker falls outside the 95th percentile you may need to make special adjustments.
Adjustable Task Chairs
These chairs help an office worker change position throughout the day, while still providing them with the proper support. The best chairs should have multiple points of adjustment, including lumbar support, adjustable height and tilt, adjustable depth from the seat reference point if possible, and adjustable and removable padded armrests. For comfort, these chairs should also have a waterfall front edge, 5-caster base, and controls that are easy to reach and maneuver. (Learn more in "Ergonomics: Everything You Need to Know About Office Chairs".)
This moving, adjustable tray slides beneath a desk, and allows the keyboard to sit at the same height as the forearms. Keyboard trays should be adjustable both in height and the amount of tilt they provide to the keyboard. They should also be large enough that workers can move their hands freely and not contact the bottom of the desk during normal working motions. In addition, they should provide space for a mouse. Keeping the mouse at the same height as the keyboard will help prevent over-reaching or extending.
Ergonomically Designed Keyboard and Mouse
Just as the proper positioning of the keyboard and mouse is important to reduce risk of injury, so is the design. This is especially true for those who have preexisting muscular conditions such as carpal tunnel. A split keyboard design allows each hand to rest at an angle, which reduces muscle strain from repetitive action and mechanical contact stress from typing. An ergonomically designed mouse can also help reduce strain on the hand by keeping it in a more neutral position, and reducing wrist movements (radial/ulnar deviation) particularly if space is limited.
A firm but soft wrist rest positioned at the bottom edge of a keyboard will support an employee’s wrists while typing or using a mouse. This tool can also help alleviate tension in neck and shoulders, since an employee will not strain to support their wrists for long periods of time. These supports also help prevent pinched nerves from workers resting their wrists on the hard edge of the desk or keyboard tray.
Sometimes positioning the chair at the proper height for the monitor and keyboard means that an employee is no longer able to reach the floor. In this situation, the addition of a simple footrest or purchasing a shorter desk, will allow both feet to rest flat while keeping legs parallel to the floor. Some footrests even rock, a motion that can reduce leg strain and fatigue by promoting circulation.
In order to ensure proper positioning and reduce eye and neck strain, the screen of the computer monitor should be at or slightly lower than eye level, and about arm distance away. In some cases, when the desk height is too low or a monitor does not have the necessary height adjustments, a stand can be a simple fix. Many monitor stands also include built in drawers, which enable employees to keep often-used tools within arm’s reach.
Just as looking too far up or down at a monitor can cause strain, so can looking back and forth from the monitor to documents lying flat on a desk. For those employees who spend a significant amount of time transcribing from paper to computer, a document holder that places paper at monitor level and just beside the monitor can be a vital tool to reduce neck and shoulder tension or pain.
Phone Rest or Headset
Many office workers try to multi-task while on the phone, holding it between their ear and their shoulder while reaching for documents or typing. This forces the head and neck into an awkward posture and can lead to muscle strain after long periods of time. Therefore, those employees who use the phone an average of 1 – 2 hours per day should have an attached phone rest, which allows them to rest the phone on their shoulder while maintaining a neutral posture for the head and neck. For those who are on the phone for a significant part of the day (more than 2 hours), a headset is the best choice to prevent injury.
Staring at a computer monitor for extended periods of time can lead to eye strain and headaches, especially in areas without proper lighting. In order to prevent or alleviate this issue, an anti-glare screen can be affixed to the front of the monitor. These screens will reduce the natural light and contrast from the monitor, making it easier on the eyes.
Adjustable Sit-Stand Workstation
One of the more advanced ergonomic aids for office workers is an adjustable sit-stand workstation. These require a larger upfront investment than the other tools referenced above, and so are best for employees who do mostly sedentary work and/or those who are at risk for chronic injury. Sit-stand stations allow an employee to change positions throughout day, dramatically reducing strain on muscles and helping to avoid long-term health consequences from prolonged sitting. In order to be most effective, standing workstations need to be height adjustable to accommodate all users and easy for an individual to move up and down. Finally, before implementing a sit-stand station at an employee’s desk, it is vital to provide training on proper use. This includes instruction regarding the proper neutral postures while both sitting and standing. (Learn more in "6 Ergonomic Aids for Employees Who Work in a Standing Position".)
Even with all these workstation tools, one of the most important things you can do to prevent injury and discomfort is to encourage your employees to move during the day. Whether sitting or standing — remaining in the same position for too long places unnecessary strain on muscles. Taking a simple 2 to 5 minute rest break to stretch or walk break helps divide up repetitive activities, relieve tension, promote circulation, and allow fatigued muscles to rest. (Learn more in "Breaks During Work Are Necessary for Employee Well-Being and Work Performance".)