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What is an Ergonomic Workstation?

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  • Written By: Kimberly Thompson
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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With the increase of computer use in the workplace, work-related injuries are not necessarily obsolete or rare. Prolonged and repetitive work at a computer workstation can cause fatigue, muscle soreness, and even serious injury. Improper posture aggravates the situation further. Luckily, the field of ergonomics has been developed and there are now a variety of guidelines which can be followed to create an ergonomic workstation to help avoid these work-related injuries.

The applied science of ergonomics, sometimes called biotechnology or human engineering, deals with designing equipment for the workplace. This equipment, which can be referred to as an ergonomic workstation, is designed in a way that is expected to help employees maximize productivity by reducing employee fatigue and discomfort.

Many leading universities have studied ergonomic workstations extensively. In fact, in depth studies have been conducted to figure out what types of computer stations are ergonomically sound. These findings not only benefit employees in helping them avoid pain but they help employers through reduced employee turnover and training expenses, and improved productivity of existing employees.

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Cornell University created twelve ergonomic guidelines that help protect health while working at a computer workstation. First of all, it is important to use a good chair with a back that is angled slightly to the rear and has some sort of lumbar reinforcement to support the lower back. The top of the computer monitor should be two to three inches above eye level and should not be placed where there could be a glare on the screen. This helps to avoid tense muscles in the neck and shoulder area, as well as eye strain. Other factors which will help the eyes, are to sit at least an arm’s length away from the monitor, and use a document holder when referring heavily on a document. Part of proper body positioning also has to do with the positioning of the feet — they should be flat on the floor or placed on a stable, angled footrest.

One of the biggest problems related to worker fatigue is carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive movements in an incorrect position are what aggravate the carpal tunnel. These types of injuries can be reduced, however, by keeping the keyboard centered directly in front of the worker. Also, the arms and elbows should be close to the body and relaxed; wrists should be held flat in relation to forearms. Using a stable work surface and a negative tilt keyboard tray, are helpful solutions as well. Possibly the most important factor, however, in avoiding repetitive stress injury, is to take frequent short breaks to stretch.

Along with the above recommendations, computer users should think about their work environment and take into account other things around them such as lighting, ventilation, and noise. There are other considerations to explore. Probably the most important of which is how much time will be spent at the workstation. If it’s only a few minutes a day, ergonomic issues may not be such a high priority. However, if it is more than four hours a day, an ergonomic workstation is essential for employee well-being.

By creating an ergonomic workstation, the cost of work-related injuries such as carpal tunnel, back strain, and other musculoskeletal injuries will be reduced. While the associated costs may seem unnecessary at first, they will pay off in the long run. Absenteeism will decrease, employee satisfaction will rise, and productivity will be maximized.

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