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University Health, Safety & Environment Service

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Introduction

Many of us simply sit down at a desk and pitch straight in without thinking much about what we are sitting on and the space we are working on. However, the kind of chair you have and how it is set up, and the shape and size of desk you have, all make an important difference to your ability to work in comfort over a period of time.

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Back to Preventing Aches and Pains in the Office

Mice and keyboards

Your chair

It is vital that you have a suitable chair in full working order. UHSE recommends two models for office use, the Ergonomic Coast and the Conway, both of which are available from the University's preferred supplier (Bridgend Office furniture). Your departmental assessor can help you decide which is more suitable for you. You can trial one for a short period before putting in a purchase order, to ensure you are happy with your choice. Contact uhse@lists.bath.ac.uk to arrange a trial.

Your departmental assessor can assist you in setting your chair to the optimum position for your needs.

If you have a health condition or persistent aches and pains, and think you may need a different chair, UHSE are able to advise on alternative models. A full workstation assessment will be needed before advice can be given.

Adjusting your chair

Although there is an ideal way to set up the chair for computer use (see the poster for a quick overview), you may find that you need to readjust it when you are carrying out other desk-based tasks such as speaking on the phone, reading, or hand-writing. Get to know your own chair and where your ideal adjustments are placed for each of your tasks. See How to Adjust your Computer Chair for step-by-step instructions. Your departmental assessor can assist you in setting your chair to the optimum position for your needs.

Footrests

When your chair is adjusted to the proper height for typing, you may find that your feet cannot comfortably be placed flat on the floor. If so, you will need a footrest. There are several simple models that are successfully in use around the University. Bridgend Office Furniture can help you choose a suitable one or you may already have a favourite that suits you.

A footrest can help you to maintain a relaxed and supported posture in your chair even if you can place your feet on the floor without it. It can give you another easy option for periodically changing your posture.

Exercise balls (Swiss balls)

We sometimes get asked about whether exercise balls make good substitutes for office chairs.

The exercise ball was designed for use during exercise sessions. The inherent instability of the ball during use demands constant muscular adjustments to maintain balance and can help in strengthening & toning muscles. Developing the abdomen and back muscles can reduce the likelihood and severity of back pain, and can help to improve posture.

The benefits of an exercise ball do not mean that it is a substitute for a well designed & properly adjusted office chair for a number of reasons:

  • The ball is inherently unstable & it will cause the user to fatigue faster than they might otherwise;
  • The unstable nature of the ball means that there is a risk of falling off it, especially in prolonged use;
  • The ball seating position can not be adjusted and the user will have to remain in the same posture for the duration of use.
  • The ball provides no back support and its use in place of chair for prolonged periods may cause other back problems.

Many manufacturers & suppliers advertise exercise balls for use during physical therapy, but none promote them as a substitute for office seating. Indeed, the Health and Safety (Display Screen) Regulations 1992 specifically require a stable, height- and back-adjustable chair.

More information.

'Kneeling' stools

Some people favour this type of stool for some work and there may occasionally be a health reason why someone might need to use one in an office setting. However, as with exercise balls, they are not a substitute for a well-adjusted ergonomic office chair. Anyone who wishes to use one in the office should be able to provide evidence of a medical need. They should not be used for long periods (such as a full working morning) as they can easily cause knee problems while attempting to alleviate a problem in another part of the anatomy. It is difficult to adjust them suitably for computer use such that the back and legs are comfortable while maintaining a suitable height for the lower arms to be horizontal while typing.

Your desk

Desk height

For most people, the standard height desk (720mm) is fine, but if you are particularly tall or have long legs, you may need a higher desk top. A simple solution could be to get your desk raised on blocks which sit under the feet. Estates can make blocks for you if you raise a works request through Agresso. How much higher do you need your desk? Get a colleague with a tape measure (your Departmental workstation assessor should be able to help). Set your chair at the best height for comfort in your legs, then raise your arms as if to use the computer keyboard. Measure the gap between your wrists and the desk top, then subtract 1cm. That is the height of the blocks that you need.

Shorter people may need a footrest when working at a standard height desk. It's more important to have a good lower arm position than it is to have your feet flat on the floor.

Height-adjustable desks

If you need your desk raised more than a few centimetres, or if you need a raised desk but share a desk with another person, a height-adjustable desk may be more appropriate. Bridgend Office Furniture have a range of such desks and you could ask Purchasing Services to arrange for the BOF rep to visit you to discuss your requirements.

Size and shape of the desk top

There is a wide range of shapes and sizes of desk in use around the University, and you may need to balance using the space available with your ideal desk size and shape. If your desk top is smaller than you would like, see if you can place the processing unit (the back box with all the electronic wizardry) under your desk, either on the floor or hanging underneath the desktop. A good compromise might be to turn the unit on its side, making sure that the ventilating holes are not obscured.

Having enough space on your desk top for your computer, telephone, accessories, and any paperwork can be a challenge. Don't simply accept the layout as it is but think carefully about how you use the various items and place each one where it will be most easily in reach.

Have a desk-top clear-up. Many people will be surprised at what is on their desk top that they haven't used for over a month. If it's not in current use, file it, throw it away, or put it in a drawer.

Sit-stand desks

The idea of doing some of your computer work standing up is growing in popularity. Sit-stand desks are available but they won't be in everyone's budget and won't suit everyone. Often it's simpler to think more carefully about your working practices and making sure you get up and move around frequently, even if it's just a once-hourly two-minute stretch break.

Some tips for users of sit-stand desks

 

 

 

 

 

 

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