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University Health, Safety & Environment Service

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This page is being revised for use with a new online workstation assessment that is under development. Please continue to use the paper assessment form in conjunction with this guidance.

Use this page to help ensure that your desk-top computer is ergonomically set up and that you are adopting ergonomic working practices.

Please note that the online assessment assumes you are using a desk-top computer and not a laptop or tablet.

There is separate guidance for using a laptop in an office setting.


 

Page contents

About you

The first few questions simply ask you to provide details about yourself.

General problems: Questions about aches and pains

Any part of your body can experience aches and pains from computer use. Problems can result from:

  • Sitting at your desk for long periods
  • Sitting in an unsuitable posture
  • A poorly-adjusted or unsuitable chair
  • Poorly arranged workstation equipment
  • Using the mouse incorrectly or excessively.

You may experience eye strain or fatigue from a poorly adjusted monitor or poor lighting, or from eyesight problems.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

 About RSI...

 Injury caused by repeated actions such as the movements made during mouse and keyboard use are collectively called Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

 The pain of RSI is caused by damage to muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues.

 Factors other than repetition can contribute to RSI, such as poor posture, use of excessive force, or not having enough breaks from the task.

Symptoms tend to develop over a period of time, and can include aches and pains, throbbing, numbness, tingling, or tightness in the affected area. Symptoms can persist for a much longer period of time than would be experienced following a normal strain injury (such as sprained wrist from a fall).

To begin with, symptoms often occur while you are doing the task and ease off when you stop. However, eventually the symptoms will be felt all of the time but will be worse while doing the task which has caused them, or while doing other tasks using similar movements.

Injuries include:

What should I do about persistent aches and pains?

If you experience any continuing pain that you believe could be related to, or made worse by, mouse or keyboard use at work:

  • Contact your GP for medical advice
  • If you experience eye problems, consult an optician.
  • Include as much detail as possible in your online self-assessment about the problems you are having, so that we can help you ensure that your workstation isn't contributing to your difficulties.

Seating

What makes a suitable ergonomic computer 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). 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 (for some departments) can help you decide which is more suitable for you, and 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.

Exercise balls (Swiss balls)

We sometimes get asked whether exercise balls make good substitutes for office chairs. We do not generally allow their use in an office setting.

 Information on exercise balls...

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 some 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;
  • Using a ball for long periods of computer use often results in the user slumping over the desk as they cannot maintain the upright posture for long enough, which can also put additional pressure on the lower arm and carpal tunnel.

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.

Further information on exercise balls.

'Kneeling' stools

 Information on '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 their office. 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.

Kneeling stools 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 working position

Use this poster as a brief guide to help you minimise awkward postures or any need to twist or stretch.

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. If you have one, 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 find 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.

The layout of your equipment (keyboard and monitor/s)

If you use a single monitor, you should have your keyboard and monitor directly in front of you while you are working.

If you have more than one monitor, the layout should ensure that you are using them as ergonomically as possible. Ideally, the tops of the monitors should be aligned to minimise awkward head and eye movements, and you should be able to view the monitors without having to crane your neck up or hunch down.

If you have two screens and use them both equally, position them symmetrically with a small angle between them (image below left). If you use one as your main screen and one as a reference screen, have the main screen in front of you and the reference screen to the right or left at a slight angle for ease of viewing ( image below right).

 

Images from Bakker Elkhuizen: Optimal performance with two or more computer screens

Your monitor/s: further considerations

  • Slightly tilting the bottom of your monitors towards you will help your eyes to focus more naturally as you view different parts of the screen. There are usually buttons (often on the underneath of the monitor) for adjusting the brightness and contrast.
  • If possible, try to position your desk and monitors to avoid glare and reflections from the windows. If you must have your back to the windows, you may need to draw the window blinds to minimise glare. If your windows don't have blinds, or the blinds are broken, speak to your line manager about remedying this.

Your mouse and keyboard

Your mouse

When using the mouse, keep it close to you. If it is a standard mouse, keep your wrist off the desk to avoid putting pressure on the carpal tunnel (if you can't do this, your mouse may be too small for your hand). Use your whole arm to move the mouse, not using a wrist movement. If you can't move your whole arm, a finger-tip motion mouse may be a better solution.

The Assistive Technology team can help you choose a suitable mouse and has a range of ergonomic models that you can try. You should not buy a mouse without trying it first.

More Top Tips for using the Mouse

 A note about mouse mats...

Most modern mice don't need a mat to work - unlike the old ball-operated mice which needed extra friction to work. Most desks provide enough reflection for the low-power laser or LED that is found in newer mice.

If you do need a mouse mat, it's usually better not to have one with a gel wrist rest. The problem with a gel mouse mat is that it's too easy to rest on the gel pad while you are moving the mouse about. This will give you less movement in your elbow/shoulder, and will lead to more rotational movement in your wrist, putting more pressure on the carpal tunnel. It's far better to have a mouse that is suitable for your hand than to rely on a gel mat to support your wrist.

If you need to rest your wrists in between using the mouse, put your hands on your keyboard rest if you have one. Otherwise just rest them on the desk or on your lap.

Working in this way will reduce pressure or strain on the carpal tunnel area and should help to eliminate wrist and hand pain.

Your keyboard

The keyboard should be positioned fairly close to your body - with the front of it generally about 10-15cm away from the edge of the desk.  Imagine you are playing a piano - with your shoulders relaxed, lower arms level and your elbows by your sides, your fingers should be relaxed and your finger tips able to touch the keys almost without effort. Your wrists should not be resting on anything while you are typing.

Standard keyboards usually have little feet underneath the back edge. For ergonomic typing, it's usually better to leave the feet retracted so that the keyboard is flat.

Most keyboards have a number section at the right hand end. If you don't use this, you might wish to look at short keyboards. These allow the mouse to be positioned closer to you than is usually the case with the standard keyboard, and may help to keep your right arm more relaxed.

 A note about keyboard wrist rests...

Keyboard wrist rests are designed for resting your wrists while you are not typing. You should not rest your wrists all the time as this constricts the movement within the carpal tunnel and can lead to RSI including carpal tunnel syndrome. It's better not to use a wrist rest at all, but to put your hands on your lap if you need to rest in between typing.

Using the keyboard and the mouse

Many of us have developed unthinking habitual ways of typing and mousing that may eventually cause aches and pains. Try to become more aware of what your body is telling you - notice the little signs of discomfort before any aches and pains start.

An ideal posture keeps the shoulders relaxed and allows the weight of the arms to be carried by the shoulders while you are typing - not by the desk top. Many people find they need their chairs a little higher for keyboard use to enable them to type without their wrists resting on the desk. The arm motion should be free and similar to that used by pianists.

Ergonomic mice and keyboards

If you need to explore the possibilities offered by special ergonomic models of mice and keyboards, contact the Assistive Technology team 

Further information on assistance with IT equipment for your workstation.

Your desk

Clearance space under your desk

All computer users should have a suitable table-style desk to work at. Traditional desks with drawers built into the underside of the desk are not suitable as it is not possible to sit at the right height for typing.

Resist the temptation to fill up the leg space under your desk with stored items. Try to avoid having under-the-desk pedestal drawers, unless your desk is large enough for the pedestal not to restrict your leg space.

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.

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

 Size and shape of your 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.

Your working practices

Changes of activity / mini-breaks

Breaks in working are vital to allow your eyes and muscles to recover before they become over-used or strained. A few seconds every 20 minutes to look up and away from your computer will allow your eyes to blink and change focus. A couple of minutes each hour just to get up from your desk, stretch and change position will help your whole body recover from the unnatural position of sitting at the desk.

If you need to eat your lunch at your desk, make sure you get up for several minutes before and after you eat. If possible, get away from your desk and take at least a 10-minute walk to get some exercise, re-align your joints and muscles, and help your digestive system.

Reminders - interruption software

Many people find that half a day goes by without them being fully aware of it. It's important to be disciplined and take short breaks to rest your eyes and stretch your muscles.

Windows users can can download a little freeware programme called BigStretch that you can customise to pop up and remind you to take breaks. Don't worry, it won't lock you out of your computer and you can send the reminder away if it's not convenient to stop at that time.

There are other similar programmes that work with non-Windows based systems, such as WorkRave which will work for both GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows.

You may need to ask your IT Supporter (add link) for assistance with downloading the software.

 Keyboard shortcuts...

A fuller list of shortcuts for Word 2010.

Use the internet to search for shortcuts for the software you use. A good place to start is at www.shortcutworld.com

 

Other solutions

There are a few people for whom all the physical adjustments just aren't enough. For people who are unable to use a keyboard and mouse without experiencing severe pain, voice recognition software can be a way of allowing them to continue working. Contact the Assistive Technologists (need link) for advice.

The Office Environment

Don't forget to check for glare and reflections on your equipment that can make it more difficult to see comfortably. If possible, arrange your office furniture to minimise such difficulties. Use window blinds if necessary. Diffusers can be fitted to office lighting if you can't find a desk position that reduces glare and reflections from the room lights. Your line manager will need to make a works request to Estates if you require lighting diffusers or window blinds fitting.

The total volume of a workroom like an office, when empty, divided by the number of people normally working in it should be at least 11 cubic metres. In making this calculation a room or part of a room which is more than 3.0m high should be counted as 3.0m high. The figure of 11 cubic metres per person is a minimum and may be insufficient if, for example, much of the room is taken up by furniture. In a typical room, where the ceiling is 2.4m high, a floor area of 4.6m2 (for example 2.0 x 2.3m) will be needed to provide a space of 11 cubic metres. (Approved Code of Practice)

General problems with offices, such as heating, should be reported to Estates

Building works and noise, while distracting, are unfortunately unavoidable in the expanding University. Any issues which are solvable should be reported to Estates

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