"er-guh-NOM-iks") is the study of the kind of work you do, the environment you
work in, and the tools you use to do your job. The goal of office ergonomics is
to set up your office work space so that it fits you and the job you are doing.
When your workstation is set up right, you may:
common for injury and illness to happen at work. Both can cost you and your
employer time and money. They can also affect how well you do your job.
Most on-the-job injuries are
Office ergonomics can help you be more comfortable at
work. It can help lower stress and injury caused by awkward positions and
repetitive tasks. It focuses on how things are set up in your office work
space, such as:
injuries that happen at work are caused by physical stress and strain, such as
sitting in the same position for a long time, making repetitive movements, and
overuse. These injuries can cause stress and strain on your muscles, nerves,
tendons, joints, blood vessels, and spine.
Symptoms can include
pain in your:
You could also be at risk for problems such as
bursitis. These are caused by overuse and repetitive
movements. Over time, these kinds of movements can make you feel bad. They can
cause long-term health problems. And they use up your sick time.
You may be at greater risk for injuries at work if you have other health
problems, such as
arthritis or emotional stress.
Here are a
few ways you can prevent injuries at work:
You can try home treatment for a few days when you first notice symptoms.
If you've tried home treatment for several days in a row
and it hasn't helped, call your health care provider. You may need physical therapy or other
treatment to prevent more injuries.
To help prevent another injury, review your work area. Be sure it is set up in the best way possible to fit you and the job your are doing. You may be able to get more
information about workplace safety and ergonomics from your human resources
department at work or from your state's Department of Labor.
Learning about office ergonomics:
Musculoskeletal, vision, and
hearing problems are common in the workplace. By applying
ergonomic solutions, you may be able to reduce
physical problems and improve your comfort and ability to work
system is made up of the structures that support you and help you move, such as
bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Examples of musculoskeletal
problems that may be related to ergonomic issues are:
Solutions. You can reduce your
chances of musculoskeletal injuries and be more comfortable and efficient by
setting up your
workstation and work tools for your own personal
Good posture will also help prevent musculoskeletal
If you have to lift, do not use a back belt. Back belts do not reduce strains or other injuries.1 And they may even increase your chance of injury by making you overconfident, so you try to lift more than you should.2To lift safely:3
prevent falls, keep walkways clear of cords, clutter, and spills. Close drawers
completely after you use them. Use stepladders instead of chairs to reach high
objects. Report any hazards such as loose carpeting or burned-out lights. And
wear shoes appropriate to your job and environment.
Good general health, including strength and flexibility,
can help prevent injuries. It will also help you recover faster if you are
Typical workplace vision problems
Solutions. You can reduce your
risk of vision problems from improper lighting with:
It's also a good idea to have an eye exam every 1 or 2
years. If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, you may want to adjust your
monitor so that you don't have to tilt your head back to see clearly. Or consider
full-frame reading glasses for computer use. There are also progressive lenses
available that have a reading prescription at the bottom, a mid-distance
prescription that is good for computer use in the middle of the lens, and a
long-distance prescription at the top of the lens. The lens has these three
types of prescriptions in different areas of the glass and smooth transitions
between types of prescriptions.
Noise can produce tension and
stress and interfere with your ability to concentrate. And it can damage your
Solutions. You and your company
can reduce your risk for hearing loss or other problems associated with noise
Ergonomics may prevent musculoskeletal
injuries (such as back strain or
carpal tunnel syndrome) by reducing physical and
mental stress caused by the workstation setup. By focusing on the physical
setup of your workstation and the tools you use, you can reduce your chances of
injuries. It also is important to evaluate the work process, including job
organization, worker rotation, task variety, and demands for speed and quality.
intensely over long periods of time without taking breaks can greatly increase
your risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Taking regular breaks from your work
and doing stretching exercises may reduce the risk of repetitive motion
injuries. Try taking 3- to 5-minute breaks-or changing tasks-every 20 to 40
To improve your
If you do similar work or activities at home, be sure to
apply these principles there as well to avoid the cumulative effect of
To improve your
workstation, choose workstation tools that fit your
personal physical and comfort needs, such as:
Many people use laptop computers as secondary workstations.
You should not use a laptop as your primary computer. Using a docking station
that provides an adjustable keyboard can help keep your wrists in a neutral
position to reduce stress and strain. If you use a laptop often, try the
following to improve ergonomic factors:
Parents can apply all these ideas when children use a
computer. To adjust a workstation for a child, you may want to:
If you have a musculoskeletal injury such as back or neck strain or
carpal tunnel syndrome, try home treatment for a few
days when you first notice symptoms. These steps are usually helpful in
relieving discomfort caused by stress and overuse. Home treatment includes:
Home activities may contribute to workplace injury. For
example, doing an activity at home that requires the same repetitive movements
as at work may not allow your body time to recover. Also, driving long
distances to and from work may contribute to workplace injury. Using special
seat covers for added comfort (such as those made of wool or beads),
carpooling, or using public transportation may help reduce this added
Other treatments to relieve pain, prevent further injury, and return to
normal activities include:
Surgery usually is not needed for injuries related to
If you have tried the home
treatment suggestions but your pain and discomfort have lasted for several days
(for example, 7 continuous days), call your doctor. Health professionals who
can diagnose and treat work-related injuries include:
You may be able to get help or information through:
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health (NIOSH) conducts research and makes recommendations for the prevention
of work-related injuries and illnesses. NIOSH also provides information to the
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)
provides information and education to raise the public's awareness of
musculoskeletal conditions, with an emphasis on preventive measures. The AAOS
website contains information on orthopedic conditions and treatments, injury
prevention, and wellness and exercise.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the
nationally recognized professional association of approximately 35,000
occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students of
occupational therapy. AOTA's mission is to advance the quality, availability, use,
and support of occupational therapy through standard-setting, advocacy,
education, and research on behalf of its members and the public.
This U.S. government Web site has general information on
hazards, illness, injuries, and diseases that may be related to the workplace.
It also has information on safety and prevention.
The National Institutes of Health's Division of Occupational Health and Safety provides leadership in developing, promoting, and implementing occupational safety and health policies, standards, and procedures. This website contains good information for consumers, even though it is written for the staff of the National Institutes of Health.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
provides information about hazards at the workplace and about worker
CitationsVan Duijvenbode I, et al. (2008). Lumbar supports for prevention and treatment of low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (1996). Back Belts: Do They Prevent Injury? Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/94-127.American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (2007). Preventing back pain at work and at home. Available online: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00175&return_link=0.Other Works ConsultedAmerican College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (2004). Prevention. In LS Glass, ed. Occupational Medicine Practice Guidelines: Evaluation and Management of Common Health Problems and Functional Recovery of Workers, 2nd ed., p. 1. Beverly Farms, MA: OEM Press.Driessen MT, et al. (2010). The effectiveness of physical and organisational ergonomic interventions on low back pain and neck pain: A systematic review. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 67(4): 277–285.National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (1996). Back Belts: Do They Prevent Injury? Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/94-127.National Institutes of Health, Division of Occupational Health and Safety. Ergonomics for computer workstations? Available online: http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/healthandsafety/ergonomics/atwork/pages/ergo_computers.aspx.National Institutes of Health, Division of Occupational Health and Safety. What's an ergonomic chair? Available online: http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/healthandsafety/ergonomics/pages/ergonomic_chair.aspx.Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (2008). Computer workstations checklist. Available online: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/checklist.html.Panel on Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, and National Research Council (2001). Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace: Low Back and Upper Extremities. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Sillanpaa J, et al. (2003). Effect of work with visual display units on musculo-skeletal disorders in the office environment. Occupational Medicine, 54(7): 443–451.Thomsen JF, et al. (2008). Carpal tunnel syndrome and the use of computer mouse and keyboard. A systematic review. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 9: 134. Available online: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2474/9/134.
January 25, 2012
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & William S. Marras, PhD, CPE - Ergonomics
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