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Understanding Ergonomics

The word ergonomics is used constantly in the office furniture industry. As a customer or lay person, it sounds important, but what does it really mean? Today my goal is to give you a quick “Ergonomics for Dummies” type lesson to help you make informed decisions, particularly regarding your office chair. Let’s start with a definition: Ergonomics is the study of how the human body interacts with the workplace.

 

In today’s office environment, whether you work in a private office or a cubicle, there are several factors that contribute to ergonomics and a healthy work environment: body position, lighting and ventilation. Body position is the factor that usually draws the most attention and so that is what I would like to focus on today.

 

Working in a typical office you spend hours at a time seated working on a computer. The reason you feel sore is because the repetitive tasks and remaining in the same position for long periods of time, especially if that position is not correct, can put stress on your body and over time cause you to develop musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). If you pay attention to proper body position while working on the computer you can avoid soreness and MSD. OSHA and The Business and Institutional Furniture Association suggest the following positioning. Torso: perpendicular to the ground. Knees: bent at around a 90 degree angle with the feet slightly forward and flat on the floor. Arms: positioned close to your sides and elbows bent between a 90 and 120 degree angle. Forearms, Wrists and Hands: positioned in a relatively straight line and about parallel to the floor. Head and Neck: in line with the torso and not turned in any directions. Back: supported especially in the lower lumbar region.

 

A good office chair will help you achieve the correct ergonomic position. It is important to have a chair that is highly adjustable task chair with seat height, depth and angle adjustments, back height and angle adjustments, arm height and width adjustments a nicely padded seat and adjustable lumbar support. However, a chair—like a shoe—is a very individual thing. The way you work and what you find comfortable are completely different than many people you interact with. The best way to find the ergonomic chair for you is to take each chair for a “test sit”. Check out the adjustments and make sure you know how to use the chair.

 

There are a few other easy things to do in order to maintain proper body position. Lay out your work area efficiently, with enough space and lighting to support your everyday tasks. Use an articulating keyboard tray that enables you to maintain proper arm and wrist position. A good articulating keyboard tray will adjust in height, angle, position and provide wrist support, accommodating you and your changing tasks. Positioning your monitor properly or using an adjustable monitor arm will keep the head from leaning forward or being turned in either direction.

 

One of the most important things you can do to avoid the soreness and future problems with MSD is to change positions, move around, stretch and take breaks during long periods of repetitious work. Sorry, a chair can only do so much!