The study of work is the definition of ergonomics, for those who've heard the word and wondered about it. How people relate to the tools of their trade, how people relate to the trade itself, and the effect all this has on people is the gist of ergonomics. The study has spawned “ergonomically correct” keyboards, “ergonomic” office chairs and other products to help us work better. What does all this mean, and how does it relate to computer use?
What's It All About?
Ergonomics is all about adapting the job to the worker instead of forcing the worker to fit his body to the job. If the tools of the trade are designed to take the stress off the worker's body, then musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs won't cost the company an arm and a leg (please pardon the pun) in insurance payments or workers comp payments.
Ergonomics was devised for workers who, like factory workers for example, make repetitive motions for eight to nine hours every day, or for farm workers whose motions are also repetitive, but in a different way. Those who lift heavy weights or use brute force to do their jobs are also the subjects of ergonomics.
Why Is Ergonomics Important?
When a workplace is physically ergonomic, the workers' skeletons support them and do their work with the least stress as well as in the least tiring manner possible. Workers with less fatigue work better, don't take as long to rest, and suffer less physical impact that causes days lost for doctor visits and recovery from injury.
Physical stress isn't all there is to ergonomics, however. The cognitive and organizational fields enter the subject as well. Interaction with a computer, for example, along with stress levels affect a worker's reliability. Cognitive ergonomics studies how workers mentally relate to their job. Organizational ergonomics studies business hours, job description, as well as other things normally relegated to human resources. Making sure these things best fit the workers will have a positive effect on them.
Ergonomically Sitting At a Computer
The goal of the exercise is to provide the least stress on the body and mind, while still getting the job done. To that end, the Mayo Clinic has a few suggestions for a work station makeover. They think that correct chair height, correct desk posture, and work station supplies spacing provides the best possible comfort for the worker:
Make sure the desk chair supports the curvature of the spine. Make sure it is the right height. By that, the Mayo Clinic says the line of sight should be the top third of the computer monitor. The thighs should be parallel to the floor, with the legs bent at a 90 degree angle to the hips. The armrests should be slightly sloped, so that the shoulders and arms are relaxed.
No more leaning or stretching across the desk to reach something workers need such as a stapler or the phone. Place these things as close to the worker as possible and still have room to move. Standing in order to reach what is needed should be done instead of stretching across the desk. This could cause muscle strain.
The keyboard and mouse should be as close to the body as possible. The arms should be droopy and relaxed, with the elbows tucked in close to the body. Alternate mouse hands every now and then, so that both sides of the body become used to mouse use.
If, as part of a worker's job, the phone is in constant use, a headset would preclude neck, shoulder and upper back pain from holding the handset against the shoulder all day.
If the desk is too high, then the body will stretch in order to use what's on top of the desk. In this instance, raising the desk chair would be a good idea. If the desk is too low, then a few sturdy pieces of wood will raise the desk to a comfortable working position. The idea is to adjust the tools, not the person working with them.