People working at desks

Tips For Maintaining Proper Desk Ergonomics

Workers in factories, outdoor jobs and emergency services put themselves at physical risk every day, but so does the average American office worker.

Though often overlooked, sitting at a desk, staring at a computer and typing all day can cause minor to severe injuries. Slouching, improper monitor placement and unsuitable desk height can lead to ailments such as back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and eyestrain. That’s why proper desk posture and proper desk ergonomics are vital to the health of office workers.

Ergonomics is the “science of designing the job to fit the worker, rather than physically forcing the worker’s body to fit the job,” according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA recommends business owners provide desks and equipment to workers to help prevent any injuries that may stem from repetitive motions or working in stationary positions.

Here are some ergonomic workstation tips that can help reduce the risk of injuries for office workers.

Desk Chairs

Desk workers should be able to sit upright with their torsos and necks vertical and in-line to avoid shoulder, neck and back pain. Chairs should support the curve of the spine at the lower back (lumbar) and have a comfortable seat cushion, preferably made of firm, but breathable, material. The chair height should be adjusted so workers can rest their feet flat with their thighs parallel to the floor, according to The Mayo Clinic. OSHA recommends seat heights be adjustable from 15 to 22 inches. Armrests should also be adjusted so workers can rest their arms comfortably (elbows bent at 90 degrees) with shoulders relaxed.

Desk Height

The height of a desk should be set to provide enough clearance for a worker’s knees, thighs and feet. At the same time, the desk should also be positioned to support work tools at a level that’s even with arms resting on a chair armrest, Mayo says. OSHA suggests a minimum under-desk clearance depth of about 18 inches for knees and 24 inches for feet. Clearance width should be at least 20 inches for feet height and 21 inches for knee height.

Desks with hard or angled edges should have padding or a wrist rest. If the desk is too high, chairs should be adjusted. If the desk is too low, boards or blocks may be placed underneath to raise the desk to the proper height. If the chair is adjusted to fit the desk properly but raises a worker’s feet above the floor, a footrest should be offered.

Desk Accessories

Upon the desk, computer monitors, keyboards and mice also have ideal ergonomic placements. Monitors should be centered in front of a user about an arm’s length away. The worker’s face should be 20 to 30 inches from the screen. Monitors larger than 20 inches should be placed back a bit farther. The top of the screen should be level with a worker’s eyes, with two notable exceptions. Those who wear bifocals or trifocals should position the screen a few inches lower. Screens larger than 20 inches should be set with the top about three inches above eye level. The worker’s neck should be upright and in-line with the monitor.

Keyboards and mice should rest on the desk in front of the monitor and within easy reach. When using both tools, wrists should be straight with hands just below elbow level and upper arms at close to the torso. Likewise, the most-used office equipment and supplies should be at arm’s length for easy access.

Standing desk set-ups have become more popular in recent years. Workers or employers who choose this configuration should be aware that proper desk ergonomics still apply. OSHA recommends a proper standing posture where the worker’s legs, torso, neck and head are in-line and vertical, with feet slightly apart. The keyboard should still be level with the worker’s hands and forearms, when elbows are bent at 90 degrees. This usually means a keyboard height of 36 to 45 inches, when standing. Monitor screen distance from the face remains the same as in a sitting desk configuration.

While chairs, desks and equipment must be positioned ergonomically, workers themselves should also move occasionally to prevent injuries that come from repetitive actions in a stationary position. Workers should mind their posture and avoid slouching, whenever possible. Workers should stand up, take a walk and stretch their fingers, hands, arms and torsos frequently during the workday. Switching between sitting and standing while doing routine tasks is another good practice. To avoid eyestrain, workers should also consider practicing the “20-20-20 Rule” – which encourages workers to take a break from staring at monitors and look 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.

Small business owners and workers both have a role to play to avoid the injuries commonly caused by working at a desk. OSHA has a computer workstation checklist that can be a helpful resource to make sure all is being done to achieve proper desk ergonomics.

EMPLOYERS is committed to helping small businesses operate safer, more efficient work places. Contact EMPLOYERS® today to learn more about our cost-effective workers’ compensation insurance.