Ergonomics- who knew how complicated it can be!

Recently, I had the benefit of a professional assessment from Michael D. Sauda, the Safety and Environmental Manager for the University of Maine System.  He and I reviewed my typical workday, work area and concerns about proper ergonomics.   Not only did he provide tips that will immediately correct some of my bad posture habits, but he will also be following up with recommendations to optimize my work area for comfort and productivity.

Generally, when I hear the word ergonomics I think about how my workspace and my body should “fit” with each other.   The computer screen must be the correct height and distance from me and the keyboard and mouse should be oriented so that my arms are bent at 90 degrees… the basics I remember learning about over 2 decades ago.

Did you know that if you spend hours every day at a desk there are over 20 features to a chair you should look for before choosing the right one? The backrest should be no less than 12 inches wide and 15 inches high.  It should also conform to the contours of your lower back.   The armrests should be soft, padded and wide enough to support your forearm.  Even the front edge of the seat pan should be rounded so as not to cut off circulation in your legs. And these are only a few of many specifications for proper seating.

Apparently my telephone has been on the wrong side of the desk for decades!  Until today, it has been to my left, within reach if I extend my left arm fully.  While this is not a problem when thinking about grabbing the handset and holding it up to my ear, it’s the twisting of my entire upper body to the left so my right hand can reach the keys to dial… duh!  Of course, I could slide it closer to me while leaving it on the left, but that is valuable real estate for writing/working on laptops that I am not willing to give up.  The phone will be moving to the right of my computer this afternoon!

Lighting is everything!  Reducing the overhead lighting in our area just for a few hours today has not only made my eyes feel so much better, but we have lowered our speaking tone and I even feel more calm.  The overhead lights that were turned off during this “experiment” are using more electricity than a 1600 watt hair dryer when in use. Although it may seem too dark to the average person standing in the room, Mike assures us that it, supplemented with “task lights” at our areas when needed, is the appropriate configuration for our use.

Don’t forget to “break it up”.  At least once every hour you should change the position you are in.  Get up and go for a short walk around the building, go get a drink of water, perform some other task.  Mike likes to stand when placing or taking a phone call.  Not only does it achieve the goals mentioned in this paragraph, but Mike says that it actually changes the tone of your voice to be more “authoritative”.  Not a bad idea.  I think the next time I discuss homework with my (almost 6 foot tall, 219 pound) 14-year-old son, I will use this tactic.  I’m cautiously optimistic…

While there are several other factors that contribute to a beneficial work environment, the key players for me seem to be properly supporting my body and reducing eyestrain while staring at the computer(s) for hours. I will continue to learn about other ways to work better, and the University of Maine System has many resources to do just that.  The best place to start is at hr.umf.maine.edu.  There is a section on that page (lower right) on safety, with PDFs on ergonomics for computer workstations.  While it may seem a lot to take in, I am already feeling the benefits.

Niki Haggan
Technology Support Specialist/Desktop Services