Workstation Ergonomics: Take a Break!
Take a break! All Ergonomists agree that it's a good idea to take frequent, brief rest breaks: Practice the following:
- Eye breaks - looking at a computer screen for a while causes some changes in how the eyes work, causes you to blink less often, and exposes more of the eye surface to the air. Every 15 minutes you should briefly look away from the screen for a minute or two to a more distant scene, preferably something more that 20 feet away. This lets the muscles inside the eye relax. Also, blink your eyes rapidly for a few seconds. This refreshes the tear film and clears dust from the eye surface.
- Micro-breaks - most typing is done in bursts rather than continuously. Between these bursts of activity you should rest your hands in a relaxed, flat, straight posture. During a micro-break (less than 2minutes) you can briefly stretch, stand up, move around, or do a different work task e.g. make a phone call). A micro-break isn't necessarily a break from work, but it's a break from the use of a particular set of muscles that's doing most of the work (e.g. the finger flexors if you're doing a lot of typing).
- Rest breaks - every 30 to 60 minutes you should take a brief rest break. During this break stand up, move around and do something else. Go and get a drink of water, soda, tea, coffee or whatever. This allows you to rest and exercise different muscles and you'll feel less tired.
- Exercise breaks - there are many stretching and gentle exercises that you can do to help relieve muscle fatigue. You should do these every 1-2 hours.
- Ergonomic software - working at a computer can be hypnotic, and often you don't realize how long you've been working and how much you've been typing and mousing. You can get excellent ergonomic software that you can install on your computer (free download available at http://www.magnitude.com). The best software will run in the background and it will monitor how much you've been using the computer. It will prompt you to take a rest break at appropriate intervals, and it will suggest simple exercises.
What about ergonomic gizmos?
These days just about everything is labeled as being "ergonomically designed" and much of the time this isn't true and these so-called ergonomic products can make things worse. If you're thinking about buying an "ergonomic product" as yourself the following 4 questions:
- Does the product design and the manufacturer's claims make sense? What research evidence can the manufacturer provide to support their claims?
- Be suspicious of products that haven't been studied by researchers.
- Does it feel comfortable to use the product for a long period? Some ergonomic products may feel strange or slightly uncomfortable at first because they often produce a change in your posture that's beneficial in the long-term. Think of some products as being like new shoes that initially may feel strange but then feel comfortable after being used for a while. If a product continues to feel uncomfortable after a reasonable trail period (say at least a week) time then stop using it.
- What do ergonomics experts say about the product? If they don't recommend it don't use it.