Is Your Office a Pain in the
OfficePRO magazine, August/September 2004
Doing a little homework and using ergonomic products can keep you healthy and productive
BY KAREN FRITSCHER-PORTER
Office work can be a pain in the neck, literally, if you let it. Ergonomics (fitting the product, task, or environment to the person) can be the cure. It’s also the preventive measure that will waylay such pain from the start. That’s why you don’t want to miss out on some often inexpensive solutions to rid yourself of the aches and pains, eye strain, fatigue, and more that can accompany long-term office work.
Check out these products that support ergonomics in the office and are available from most office supply retailers:
1. Adjustable chair. “A chair is the foundation of the workstation,” says Anne Kramer, president and CEO of Ergo Works Inc. (www.askergoworks.com) in Belmont, California, which provides on-site workstation evaluations, ergonomic training, and ergonomic products. An adjustable chair that can be customized to fit you is an investment in your long-term health, especially if you spend most of your working days seated for extended periods of time.
Sitting for long periods of time, poor seated posture, and a poor quality chair can mean backaches, circulation problems, and more. Your chair should adjust to allow you to vary your posture throughout the day and to appropriately meet your work surface height and accommodate different tasks being per-formed, says Kramer. She says to look for four basic features in a chair that either already fits you or adjusts to do so. They are pneumatic cylinder height, seat pan, back angle, and back height.
2. Monitor riser. When office manager Peggy Catron CPS of London, Kentucky, bought a monitor riser five years ago, she intended to use it to create a storage space for stowing her telephone message book in the nook it created between her monitor and desktop. The ergonomic benefits were an unexpected bonus, she says. “Having the monitor on a higher level helped me reduce eye strain and maintain better posture while I’m seated,” Catron says. “I also don’t require a monitor screen anymore because the new height reduced the glare from the lights.” Monitor risers, also called monitor stands or monitor lifts, allow you to elevate a low-sitting monitor so that the monitor top is correctly placed at your eye level.
3. Footrest. “When you’re sitting, you want your feet firmly supported either on the ground or a footrest,” Kramer says. “If you have to elevate your chair to get to the right working height and then your feet don’t touch the floor, you need a footrest. Otherwise, your feet dangle, putting pressure on your thighs and [negatively] impacting blood circulation,” she explains. “Plus, a footrest is a comfort. It kind of helps you push yourself back into the chair and encourages better seating posture.”
While Kramer prefers a rocking footrest because it allows her to move her feet versus a constant static foot posture, she says others prefer firm footrests. When shopping for footrests, you’ll see ones that offer vertical height adjustment and angle adjustment on fixed or gliding platforms.
4. Keyboard tray. Also called keyboard platforms, keyboard trays often attach to the keyboard arm. Keyboard platforms or arms usually can be attached by bolts to the underside of your desk. An ideal setup has features that allow you to raise and lower the arm and platform as well as rotate them sideways. Also, trays often can be pushed under the desk when not in use and pulled close when you’re typing. Using a keyboard platform and arm in conjunction with your chair height helps you to have the proper keyboard and mouse height and keying posture. That means your upper arms hang straight (or perpendicular to the floor) and close to your sides. Your bent elbows and straight forearms will be at, or slightly beyond, a 90-degree (right) angle when keying. Your wrists are in a neutral (straight) position.
5. Mouse accessories. “You want a keyboard tray that has a wide enough platform for both the mouse and the keyboard,” advises Kramer. “You don’t want your keyboard down low and then have to reach up on the desk to use your mouse.” Both keyboard and mouse should be on the same level and both should allow your wrist to be in a neutral position (not pointing up, down, or sideways) when typing or using the mouse.
“Yet, a lot of trays have mouse surfaces lower than the keying surfaces,” adds Kramer. “And it’s kind of annoying because you end up extending that right or left arm down to get the mouse.” Such equipment is not ergonomically correct. While Kramer says you can solve the problem by using a book(s) with your mouse pad on top, her company also manufactures a product labeled a mouse booster for the same purpose. “It’s a 3/4-inch thick foam mouse mat that you place under the mouse to elevate it until it’s level,” she says.
Also, try to position your mouse as close to your keyboard as possible to minimize outward reach. A mouse bridge, which covers the numeric portion of your keyboard (assuming you don’t use the number pad), minimizes arm extension further.
6. Document holder. An administrative professional for 15 years, administrative coordinator Pat Potter CPS of Savannah, Georgia, says most of her jobs have involved extensive typing from paper documents. At her current position with Georgia Institute of Technology Savannah, she often types technical papers for professors. She appreciates the invention of the “document holder.”
“As paperless as we may think we are becoming, with the amount of written text I have to transcribe into electronic format, I could not function effectively without the document holder,” Potter says. Using one with a magnetic line guide helps her to stay on track, even after interruptions.
“The document holder also keeps my eyes from traveling all over, and it enables me not to experience a stiff neck or constant bobbing of my head if the paper were lying flat on the desk,” she says. Head and neck rotation and eye refocusing is exactly what you’re trying to eliminate by using a document holder, says Kramer. Though you can put your document holder close or even attached to the left or right of your monitor, Kramer believes the best document holder offers “in-line viewing.” Positioning the document between the back of your keyboard and the bottom of your monitor (usually at a slight angle) is “in-line viewing.” Likewise, she says to use a slant board, which has an inclined surface, for reading and writing at your desk.
7. Task lighting. When cubicle walls were built up and around her existing desk and workspace area, Sharon Pearson of Oberlin, Ohio, says they blocked much of the previous natural lighting. Pearson, who works as assistant to the administration of the City of Oberlin, attributed losing those rays of sun to new feelings of stress and fatigue. By scrutinizing her workspace, she noted that the area behind her desk was darkest and purchased a desk lamp for that spot. “While it doesn’t shine directly at me, the additional light to my area makes me feel better and helps to brighten my mood,” Pear-son says. “I noticed the difference in my work area immediately.”
Task lighting can be a flexible ergonomic solution in the office because you can adjust and control the amount of lighting and its location. Better lighting can even help relieve body aches—for example, pain in your shoulders and neck from constantly leaning forward in awkward positions to read documents you couldn’t see clearly from a normal sitting position. Good lighting can help eliminate eye fatigue and headaches and make you more alert and productive.
8. Telephone headset. Cradling the phone between your head and shoulder is out. Headsets are in and the price is cheap. Many cost well under $100. But the benefits are abundant. “A telephone headset allows you to work comfortably and multitask,” says Kramer. “Multitasking means you can talk on the phone and use the computer [simultaneously] with your head in a neutral position upright. So you’re increasing productivity as well as improving your posture,” she explains.
And in some cases, you’re putting an end to health problems such as a sore neck, shoulder, and upper back that result from the improper stationary shrug position you previously used to balance the phone on your neck. You’ll find telephone headsets in both corded and wireless versions in such styles as over the-head, behind-the-head, and over-the-ear with earpieces for one or both ears. Visit sites such as www.headsets.com and www.hellodirect.com to get an idea of what’s available in telephone headsets.
9. Laptop solutions. Using “laptops” and “ergonomics” in the same sentence is still an evolving concept. For example, if your main computer and monitor is a laptop, one nuisance in practicing proper ergonomics is getting both the keyboard and monitor at the recommended eye and arm levels.
One solution is to use a separate keyboard with your laptop when you’re in the office, along with a laptop platform. For instance, www.askergoworks.com sells a portable laptop holder that allows you to insert the keyboard portion of your laptop vertically and at a slight outward angle between a sandwich-shaped shell of cushioned aluminum. The outside of the top layer of the “sandwich” is a built-in inline viewing document holder that works in conjunction with your separate keyboard. Your laptop monitor is now raised closer to eye level (price $139).
Oh, and if you’ve got a great ergonomic workstation setup, don’t blow the concept by walking out the door lugging 10 pounds of laptops and briefcases each day in a slumped, awkward posture. That carelessness is bound to give you aches and perhaps even a muscle strain injury. Use wheeled cases or a portable luggage carrier that will take the weight off of you and enable you to walk in a more natural posture. Or leave your laptop and work where it belongs—at the office.
Attention technophobics. Don’t scurry off and leave the mouse-buying decisions to someone else. Here are some details you should know when purchasing your next mouse:
Scroll Wheel—A mouse with a scroll wheel lets you scroll up and down the monitor screen without moving your hand or the mouse. Your finger works the scroll wheel.
Tilt Wheel—With tilt wheel technology, the entire scroll wheel tilts, enabling you to scroll from side to side.
Optical Sensor—An LED-based optical mouse uses parts such as a tracking sensor that sends images (a tiny camera takes 1,500 pictures every second) to a processor that analyzes the images. The processor then essentially tells your computer the coordinates of your mouse movement so it can move your cursor. The advantages? No dirty interiors to clean (no ball), no mouse pad needed, and smoother responses.
Track Ball—In short, the typical track ball mouse contain a ball visible on the underside that touches your mouse pad and rolls when you move the mouse. Working in conjunction with other mechanical parts of the mouse, it communicates to the cursor to move similarly. Track balls need cleaning when dirt, accumulating inside near and on the ball, interferes with smooth usage.
Wireless—A wireless mouse is cordless and uses radio frequency technology to relay coordinates of mouse movement to a receiver or transceiver connected to your computer. Some cordless optical mouse devices can be used in the air during presentations. They may need battery replacement or setting in a rechargeable battery base station. Some optical mouse devices have a “sleep” feature to prolong battery life. Bluetooth and WLAN (wireless local area network) are wireless technology terms associated with unrelated wireless formats. Watch for packaging terms like Bluetooth-enabled device and WLAN-enabled device.
Short Cut Buttons—This mouse feature allows you to program frequently used commands such as “page up” or “page down” that you then utilize with a click of a mouse button.
Connectivity—When you connect a wired mouse to the computer, you’ll use connectors (connectivity requirements should be listed on the product box). Connectors are one of two types: 1) The standard PS/2 connector socket on your computer appears round with six tiny alignment pins forming a circle; or 2) The USB (Universal Serial Bus) connector is a tiny rectangular socket. (Digital cameras and printers often connect to USB ports.) Adapters are sold that can change your connectivity options from PS/2 to USB.
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