Ergonomic considerations will make your office more comfortable and productive.
By Odette Pollar, Consultant
The recent rash of workplace violence statistics aside, the average law office has not been considered particularly unsafe. After all, what can happen? Maybe a stumble coming off the elevator, a particularly vicious paper clip wound, or a run-in with a frustrating client. But now with the recognition of the importance of ergonomically correct workspaces, worker safety takes on a new meaning. Ergonomics has come a long way from simply having a chair that adjusts up and down. Making an environment truly comfortable, and therefore productive, includes consideration of air circulation and quality, lighting, sound control, furniture layout, as well as computers and monitors.
If you are in charge of purchasing furniture for your firm, ergonomic considerations are important.
To avoid painful injuries, increased costs, more absenteeism, and various aches and pains use these following guidelines:
Ergonomically correct furniture must conform to the needs of the individual. This often goes against the trend when organizations buy 150 identical work cubicles. People are not uniformly shaped nor is the work they do identical. When faced with a pre-designed cube explore whether you can adjust the height of work surfaces. Look at the placement of equipment and never accept that “the cord isn’t long enough” to allow rearrangement. If you have very little workspace and you need to spread out, then consider moving the computer to its own stand.
Adjustable chairs, both in height and along the back for lumbar support are very important. So is having your feet comfortably placed on the floor. If you sit for long periods with your feet hooked to the rungs of the chair or crossed, it reduces blood circulation and throws your body posture out of alignment. If your feet don’t reach the floor comfortably, then be sure to use a foot rest for long spells at the keyboard. This will also help reduce backaches. Adjust the height, so that when you write, your arm is in a comfortable position.
Computers and Monitors
As computers become more sophisticated and designers more in tune with the needs of users, monitor screens are becoming easier to view over long periods. Flat screens are easier to read than curved screens, and brightness is always a concern. Ideally, screens should be in 90-degree angles to windows or other strong light. If making manual adjustments for brightness does not ease the strain on your eyes, you can purchase a monitor cover which cuts down on glare. Placement of the monitor is also important. Many people put it wherever there happens to be space in their cubicle or inherit the positioning from an earlier occupant. The center of the monitor should be just below eye level. It is a good idea to sit a bit distant from the screen, but not so far that it causes you to strain to see the words. Be sure to sit comfortably, with spine straight and directly in front of the monitor and keyboard.
Computer keyboards are now being designed in what at first glance may appear to be weird shapes. These are an attempt to eliminate or reduce the repetitive stress injuries that come from using the traditional flat, rectangular keyboards. Repetitive-motion disorders have increased because using the keyboard -without the pauses that occurred with typewriters – to add paper or return the carriage, means that the users’ hands remain in the same position and the unrelieved repetitive motions can cause injury.
The new keyboards combined with adjustable keyboard stands help operators arrange the work surfaces so they are in better alignment with individual requirements. The most comfortable height for a writing surface is about six inches too high for your keyboard. Under the surface mounts that pull out are an easy way to get your keyboard down in the proper location. Adjustable trays also help reduce stress and fatigue.
To avoid personal pain and discomfort, pay attention to ergonomic considerations and seek advice from professionals. These considerations are not frivolous, and ignoring them can result in lost work time, labor problems, disability payments, higher health insurance premiums and compensation, and potentially higher turnover. As people spend more and more time at work, creating a comfortable place to be is a winning combination for all.
Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Visit her site at www.smartwaystowork.com