Ergonomics: Wellness in the Workplace

Can the position of your stapler have an impact on your health?

Absolutely. Designers and engineers concerned with workplace ergonomics understand how the things we do every day in our jobs impact our long term health. Ergonomic experts work across industries with labor and health and safety organizations to optimize workplaces to prevent pain, injury, and the productivity loss these problems generate.

Today, employers are well-versed in workplace ergonomics, or “fitting a job to a person”, and are eager (and obligated) to invest in employer wellness. As an employee, whether you spend your day at a desk or on an assembly floor, it’s important to know the basic principles of proper workplace ergonomics – it’s part of taking responsibility for your long term health and wellness.

Desk Worker Ergonomics 101

Reports of the health dangers of sitting have put desk jobs in the hot seat recently, equating its effect on lifespan with the risk of smoking. But being sedentary is not the only concern for those who spend most of their day at a desk. Poor office ergonomics – the stress of repetitive motion, poor desk posture, and improper equipment spacing – also has a serious effect on health that over time can lead to pain, injury, and disability. If job demands leave you desk-bound for most of the workday, a periodic ergonomic health check is a must. Here are some things to pay attention to.

Your chair.

A chair that positively supports the body is the first step toward an ergonomic work station. Focus on chair height, comfort, and alignment of forearms and wrists to minimize stress on our backs and shoulders. During the day, check that you are resting your back against your chair’s back, sitting all the way back in the seat, with your wrists, forearms, and shoulders relaxed.

Your desk.

Generally, a desk should be at least 19 inches deep, 30 inches wide and, depending on your height, up to 34 inches high. Make sure there’s clearance for your legs, knees and thighs underneath. There are plenty of affordable desks and work stations on the market today. Some raise and lower with the touch of a button to move from sitting to standing.

Your equipment.

Arrange frequently-used items close to you to eliminate stretching and awkward movements. For example, keep your mouse inside the “mouse zone” – as close as possible to you and the keyboard, at or near elbow height. If you are using the telephone more than 50% of the time, consider a hands-free device, and use a document holder if you work with documents regularly.

Your monitor.

Make sure the top of your computer screen is adjusted to sitting eye height, and that your body is centered in front of it, at least 20 inches from your eyes. If you are using multiple monitors, screens should be split and angled, with the one used the most in the center. Also, it’s important to make sure your workstation is free from glare – the screen should be three times brighter than overhead lights. provides information about working safely with computers. Employees and employers can review Maine Video Display Terminal Law, download a Workstation checklist, poster, quiz, and keys to safe computer use.

How often you move.

Perhaps the best solution for the scourge of sitting is to move. (It’s also the do-it-yourself alternative to the popular standing or treadmill desks.) Take the stairs, walk on lunchbreaks, commit to delivering documents by hand, and take breaks. Maine VDT law recommends a two-minute period every two hours after four hours of work to stretch, move and take a break.

You can create a workday movement schedule.

Standing Desks – Solution to the Health Effects of Sitting?

Many seeking to counteract the dangerous effects of spending a workday sitting have turned to standing desks. Even treadmill desks have grown in popularity as a way to torch calories during the nine to five. Is standing and walking while working the fix for sitting evils?

They may be helpful for some – standing burns a remarkable 50 more calories an hour than sitting, adding a major daily calorie deficit over time. There are drawbacks, however. Standing desks and slow walking don’t offer the aerobic benefit, so they don’t stand in for your workout. And, standing all day without moving can have similar effects as sitting in terms of back pain, poor posture, and be dangerous for those with heart issues.

While standing desks and treadmills can be a catalyst for both productivity and wellness, it may be just as helpful to break up the day with short walks, stretching, and standing intermittently (during meetings for example). Seeking other options? Consider a stability ball, sit-stand stools, or variable height desks, desks that allow you to vary its height for standing during just part of the day.

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