Making your workspace more ergonomic

In today’s world it’s virtually impossible to avoid sitting at a desk or in front of a computer for at least a portion of the day. Whether you have a nine-to-five cubicle job or simply have to check your emails at the end of the day, it’s important that you’re working in the most ergonomic way possible.

Woman sitting at her computer

What does “ergonomic” mean, anyway?

The term “ergonomic” is made up of two Greek words: “ergon,” which means work and “nomoi,” which means natural laws. Ergonomics is the study of how we, as humans, can work most efficiently and not put unnecessary pressure on our bodies. When we talk about making our workspace more “ergonomic,” we are essentially trying to make it more comfortable for our working needs.

What needs to change?

Most workspaces are comprised of harsh lights, bright screens, tough chairs and poorly placed keyboards. All of this means we wind up straining our eyes, overworking our wrists and putting pressure on our backs and necks. The changes needed to make things more comfortable are small but necessary.

Where should I start?

Lighting is the easiest and most inexpensive change to make. It’s about finding the balance that’s right for you. Too much light can reflect off surfaces and lead to glare that causes your eyes to strain. But not having enough light can also lead to eye strain. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers a helpful breakdown of everything involved in determining what lighting will suit the needs of your particular work area.

Is my computer a problem?

In short, yes. But there are some quick fixes you can do to help. First off, make sure you never have your computer on an angle because turning your body toward it will cause a constant strain. Instead, keep it directly in front of you and have the screen positioned at close to an arm’s length away from you. The screen should be placed at an angle that allows you to be looking straight ahead of you, with the tiniest bit of a downward tilt. This is the most comfortable position for your eyes, head and neck. You should also aim to look away from the screen at least once every 30 minutes, to give your eyes a break.

What about my chair?

It’s important when you are sitting at a computer that your shoulders be relaxed, your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle and your forearms, wrists and hands in line. Whether you have a pricey ergonomic chair or not, make sure that your chair is set to a height that puts you in this position.

Is it going to cost me?

It can; but it doesn’t have to. Many companies, such as ErgoCanada, sell ergonomic chairs, keyboards and mouse devices, which, if installed correctly, can certainly create a more comfortable working environment. But simple tricks, such as readjusting your chair, getting up to stretch every hour and alternating your wrist position between relaxing and activating, can also be effective. Always try to sit with proper posture and change your position every 15 to 20 minutes.

What else can I do?

For more information on changes you can make, check out Dr. Jonathan Bailin’s Ergonomics & Computer Injury: FAQs. And, most importantly, pay attention to your body’s clues. If you notice regular pain in your wrists, soreness in your back or headaches from eye strain, talk to your doctor and get the help you need before it’s too late.

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