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As we work longer hours, spend more time at a workstation, while also logging in more time on computers, cell phones, and tablets, we face increasing ergonomic risk factors. At the end of the workday, we may experience various aches and pains and wonder why, especially since we are completing routine daily tasks.

What you may not realize is that the ergonomic set up of your workstation plays a significant part in how you feel at the end of the day.  How we’re feeling can be effectively treated in part through ergonomic adjustments in office space – it’s amazing how some ‘tweaks’ to the work area can make marked improvements on physical and mental wellbeing.

This is where ergonomics plays an important part – proper sitting posture, distance/height of monitor, keyboard height, repetitive motions (typing, twisting/turning to file items, etc.), and taking breaks are key factors in order to be fully comfortable while working and being productive.

With this in mind, our Faculty Commons communicator, Elise Maxfield, who had been having lower back and wrist pain off-and-on for a few weeks, scheduled an appointment with the Ergonomics program to assess whether her workstation was causing these issues. Here she describes her experience with the Ergonomics Program:

[9:45 AM] Ann Woodall, an environmental health and safety technician, promptly arrives at my office for my workstation consultation. She’s extremely friendly and she gets right into assessing my current setup. She has me sit at my desk as I usually would and begins to talk through the different things she looks at when assessing a setup. She asks me questions about how I usually work, how much time I spend sitting at my computer, and how often I get up and move (which is unfortunately not very often I admit). She recommends that I make an effort to move more frequently but is understanding about how often I get sucked into my work and lose track of time.

The end result of this discussion is that I now have a reminder alarm on my computer that pops up every hour and tells me to MOVE. It is surprisingly effective. A simple Google search will show tons of apps you can download to remind you to move, rest your eyes, and sit up straight–find one that works for you!

[9:50 AM] After explaining that the positioning of my three computer screens is not the best setup for how I work, we rearrange them according to ergonomics best practice. My two primary screens are now equally front-and-center, and my third “extra screen” has been raised up (with a stack of books for now) to match the height of my other screens. Ann explains that the goal is to keep yourself from positioning your head at odd angles and turning frequently to see a screen as this will cause neck strain over time.

[10:00 AM] Ann has suggested that the height of my seat chair is not quite right for where I have my keyboard and mouse. We discuss how the keyboard tray provided at my workstation doesn’t really work for me because it forces me to sit really low to the floor. Ann suggests that if I get a chair that can be raised higher up my arms will be closer to the recommended 90 degree range.

Also, it turns out that you are not supposed to rest your wrists on the working surface in front of your keyboard (maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t know this but I was surprised to hear that!). So Ann teaches me how I should be holding my hands when I’m typing. I immediately feel some relief in my wrist–I did not know such a simple thing could have been causing me such pain. She further explains how if I get a chair that raises me higher I may need to get a foot rest so that my feet aren’t dangling.

Elise and Ann review the chair selections available for purchase.[10:10 AM] After some further discussion (and digressions on my part about how interesting ergonomics is), Ann shows me the selection of chairs available for me to “test drive” over the next few months. The ergonomics program has a variety of chairs that they can deliver right to your office, set up, and let you test drive for 3 weeks each–once the three weeks is up, they will deliver your next selection and remove the old one. If you decide you hate a chair sooner than 3 weeks they will come early to remove it and replace it with your next selection.

Once you’ve found a chair you like, you can order that chair through your department. Ann describes each chair and what features it has that might improve my current situation. She recommends a chair with a higher back because of my height and a mesh material so that there is some flexibility in how it fits to my back. We talk through the options and she answers all of my questions and concerns about the options. She also shows me other available workstation modification tools like standing desks and document holders which I also consider.

[10:30 AM] Ann and I discuss a plan of action for my desk and I draft up an email to dehsafety@udel.edu with the chairs I would like to “test drive” before deciding which one to purchase. I thank Ann for all of her help and she leaves me with her card in case I have more questions or need to contact her. She says if I need another consultation down the road that she is happy to come back.

[Thoughts] The consultation only took about 45 minutes total and left me feeling more knowledgeable about things I need to keep in mind while I’m working. Some things I was aware of already (like moving) but other things I did not know (like keeping my wrists off of the table when I’m typing). I have no idea why I put off making this appointment for so long because it was so easy to do! I have made my 4 chair “test drive” selections and I should receive my first drop-off in a few days. I’m certainly am looking forward to sitting easier.

Admittedly I waited weeks before I decided my pain is worth making an appointment. Don’t be like me, if you are experiencing discomfort make your appointment now–send an email to dehsafety@udel.edu or call x8475.

It is better to be proactive rather than reactive with your workstation set up – use ergonomic guidelines at your workstation before feeling any pain rather than waiting until you’re hurting and having to try to reduce/eliminate the pain.  In addition to reducing/preventing pain, ergonomics helps to reduce turnover and absenteeism, along with improving productivity and morale.

There is also a cost benefit to ergonomics; while there may be an initial cost at times for items like new chairs, document holders, footrests, or sit-stand units, the cost savings dramatically increase from the reduction in expenses accrued from the ergonomic-related workplace injuries.   Ergonomics is a sound investment for the employee and employer in creating a productive, healthy workspace and working environment.

For a free proactive ergonomic evaluation, contact EHS at 831-8475 or dehsafety@udel.edu.

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