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Ergonomic Guidelines for Computer Workstations - 10 Steps for Users

Creating a good ergonomic working arrangement is important to protecting your health. The following 10 steps are a brief summary of those things that most Ergonomists agree are important. If you follow the 10 steps presented throughout this article, they should help you to improve your working arrangement. However, every situation is different, and if you can't seem to get your arrangement to feel right, or you are confused about some of the following recommendations, you should seek professional advice.

Work through the following 10 steps to help you decide on what will be a good ergonomic design for your situation:

1. How will the computer be used?

  • Who will be using the computer?
    If the computer will only be used by one person then the arrangement can be optimized for that person's size and shape, and features such as an adjustable height chair may be unnecessary. If it's going to be used by several people, you will need to create an arrangement that most closely satisfies the needs of the extremes, that is the smallest and tallest, thinnest and broadest persons, as well as those in between these extremes.

  • How long will people be using the computer?
    If it's a few minutes a day then ergonomic issues may not be a high priority. If it's more than 1 hour per day you should create an ergonomic arrangement. If it's more than 4 hours then you should consider implementing an ergonomic arrangement.

2. What kind of computer will be used?

  • Desktops: Most ergonomic guidelines for computer workstation arrangements assume that you will be using a desktop system where the computer screen is separate from the keyboard.

  • Laptop computers are growing in popularity and are great for short periods of computer work. Guidelines for laptop use are more difficult because laptop design inherently is problematic - when the screen is at a comfortable height and distance the keyboard isn't and vice versa. For sustained use you should consider purchasing either: An external monitor, an external keyboard, preferably with a negative-tilt keyboard, both, and a docking station and then arranging your workspace to create a good workstation layout.

3. What furniture will you use?
Make sure that the computer (monitor, CPU system unit, keyboard, mouse) are placed on a stable working surface (nothing that wobbles) with adequate room for proper arrangement. If this work surface is going to be used for writing on paper as well as computer use a flat surface that is between 28 to 30 inches above the floor (suitable for most adults). You should consider attaching a keyboard/mouse tray system to your work surface. Choose a system that is height adjustable, that allows you to tilt the keyboard down away from you slightly for better wrist posture (negative tilt), and that allows you to use the mouse with your upper arms relaxed and as close to the body as possible and with your wrist in a comfortable and neutral position.

4. What chair will be used?
Choose a comfortable chair for the user to sit in. If only one person is using this the chair can even be at a fixed height providing that it is comfortable to sit on and has a good backrest that provides lumbar support. If more than one person will be using the computer, consider buying and a chair with several ergonomic features. Studies show that the best seated posture is a reclined posture of 100-110 degrees not the upright 90 degree posture that is often portrayed. In the recommended posture the chair starts to work for the body and there are significant decreases in postural muscle activity and in intervetebral disc pressure in the lumbar spine. Erect sitting is NOT relaxed, sustainable sitting, reclined sitting is.

5. What kind of work will the computer be used for?
Try to anticipate what type of software will be used most often.

  • Word processing - arranging the best keyboard/mouse position is high priority.
  • Surfing the net, graphic design - arranging the best mouse position is high priority.
  • Data entry- arranging the best numeric keypad/keyboard is a high priority.
  • Games - arranging the best keyboard/mouse/game pad is a high priority.
Updated on: 12/10/09
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