Computer Workstations & Ergonomics

Individuals who use computers for extended periods of time may experience discomfort or pain as a result of poor posture, improper adjustment or use of workstation components or other factors. In most cases, there are relatively simple and inexpensive corrective measures which can be employed to reduce the likelihood of discomfort or injury.

EHS staff are available to train computer users on how to adjust their computer workstations  in order to work safely.

For more information on how to adjust your computer workstation, please follow the links below:

Setting Up Your Workstation

Here are some general guidelines to adjusting your workstation in order to achieve a neutral posture while working. Of course, no two bodies are identical and different styles, models, and sizes of furniture and accessories may be needed. The best results are achieved when the individual is involved in the selection and adjustment process.

Chair

Desired features for computer task chairs include:

  • pneumatic seat height adjustability
  • 360 degree  swivel
  • back height/lumbar support adjustability
  • seat depth adjustability (either by moving the back of the chair or by moving the seat pan).
  • Tilt is not necessarily recommended, and, if a chair has tilt, it should also be equipped with tilt lock.
  • Armrests are not recommended for computer use. If a chair is equipped with arms, they should be adjusted to their lowest point.

Users should be able to sit such that their feet are flat on the floor (or a footstool, if necessary), knees are approximately 90 degrees and the back of the chair is in use.

Keyboard/Mouse

  • Users should be able to place their hands on the keyboard or mouse with their neck and shoulders relaxed, their upper arms at their sides, their elbows at or slightly larger than 90 degrees and wrists straight.
  • If a keyboard or mouse is too high when placed on the desk surface, users can employ a height- and tilt-adjustable keyboard tray. Keyboard trays should be large enough to accommodate the keyboard and mouse on the same level. If a keyboard tray is not practical or desired, users may be able to raise the height of the chair and use a footstool.Arm and keyboard diagram
  • In order to keep wrists in a neutral posture, keyboard legs should be folded up and keyboard trays can be adjusted to a slightly negative angle (away from the user).

Monitor

  • Monitors should be placed at a distance such that the user can focus on the screen while still using the back of the chair and keep their arms parallel to their upper body. This may be anywhere between 18 and 30 inches.
  • Monitor height should be adjusted such that the user’s eyes are level with the top of the screen. This may need to be adjusted with the use of corrective glasses, as multi-lens glasses can impact how a user holds their neck posture.
  • Computer users who use two monitor screens must assess how both monitors are used:
    • If both monitors are used equally, the monitors should be placed together, directly in front of the user.
    • If one monitor is used primarily and another is used only occasionally, the primary monitor should be placed directly in front of the user with the secondary monitor immediately to the side. In either situation, both monitors should be adjusted to the same height.Workstation Setup

Laptop Computers

Laptop computers and tablets do not have the adjustability of a desktop computer when adjusting keyboard, mouse and monitor. For long term use of laptops, a docking station, port replicator or external keyboard and monitor are recommended.

Accessories

  • Telephone headsets: If your job requires you to frequently use the telephone and the computer at the same time, a telephone headset may be recommended. Contact the University Telephone Office to find telephone headsets compatible with University telephones
  • Input devices: There are a number of alternatives to the standard mouse input device. Since there are many varied work types, work spaces and operator issues, there is no single alternative device which is recommended. Contact EHS with questions about specific input devices.
  • “Ergonomic” or “Natural” keyboards: There are a variety of keyboard types available for use. However, research shows that standard keyboards allow most users to keep their arms and wrists in a neutral posture.
  • Keyboard or mouse palm/wrist rests: Palm/wrist rests may be used to keep a user’s wrists in a neutral posture and prevent leaning wrists on the edge of a desk, creating contact stress.

Tips for Reducing Computer Discomfort

Evaluating Your Work

  • How much time is spent on the computer each day?
  • What are your non-computer-related job tasks? Can these be scheduled throughout the day?
  • Is your computer work mouse-intensive, keyboard-intensive or a combination?
  • Does your work require you to work on the computer and the telephone at the same time?

Other Considerations

  • Do you wear corrective lenses? Should you consider lenses specifically for computer use?
  • Do you have poor posture habits, such as crossing legs, leaning to one side or the other, slouching, etc.?
  • Do you participate in home activities which might use similar motions or muscle groups as computer work (i.e., gardening, playing an instrument, home computer use, etc.)?

General Tips and Work Practices

Even the perfect posture is not perfect for 8 hours per day. Computers users should devote at least five minutes of every hour of computer use to a non-computer-related task.

  • Stand up while on the phone to force a break from computer work and focus on a distant object
  • Print to a remote printer to force yourself to stand up and move around
  • Schedule non-computer-related tasks throughout the day
  • Blink your eyes multiple times during computer breaks to avoid eyestrain.
  • Each time you sit, take the opportunity to “reset” your posture. Sit back in the chair, relax your neck and shoulders, move the chair in, etc.

Sit-Stand Workstations

Standing desks or sit-stand workstations are rapidly gaining in popularity. While research suggests that prolonged sedentary behavior has emerged as a risk factor for various negative health outcomes, there is little agreement on the best intervention strategies to reduce sedentary behavior.

The following information outlines the EHS guidance regarding these emerging intervention strategies:

Departmental Purchases

As with chairs, desks or other office furniture, sit-stand desks are purchases made at the discretion of the department. EHS does NOT make recommendations in regards to the need for or the type of sit-stand workstations.

Medical Accommodation

Requests for a medical accommodation, including those for a sit-stand or standing desk, should be referred to the Office of Human Resources (for staff), the Office of the Dean of Faculty (for DOF employees), or the Office of Disability Services (for undergraduate and graduate students).

Standing Desks vs. Sit-Stand Desks

Some workstations are designed for the user to stand exclusively and some are designed to vary posture between sitting and standing. Research suggests that variability is key and users benefit from the ability to change postures between sitting and standing.

Types of Sit-Stand Workstations

There is a wide range of sit-stand workstations commercially available, from free-standing electrically controlled to manual setups that can be placed on an existing desk surface. Each type has benefits and limitations. Departments and users should consider the following when evaluating products:

  • Ease of use
  • Cost
  • Desk space footprint
  • Distance to monitor
  • Space for mouse or other input device

Alternative Strategies

There are several alternative strategies to reducing sedentary behavior, both at work and outside of work. All computer users should be encouraged to devote at least five minutes of every hour of computer use to a non-computer-related tasks.

Work-related strategies can include:

  • Standing while speaking on the telephone builds in a natural break throughout the day and avoids the temptation to pinch the telephone headset between your shoulder and chin
  • Print to a remote printer to force yourself to stand and retrieve documents
  • Schedule non-computer-related tasks throughout the day
  • Set a timer that reminds you to stand up and move throughout the day. Certain commercially available fitness trackers (Fitbit, Garmin, etc.) will remind you to move throughout the day
  • Use these University Health Services Desk Stretch videos to increase movement throughout the day

Strategies outside of work can include:

  • Join a walking group in the neighborhood or at the local shopping mall.
  • Recruit a partner for support and encouragement.
  • Get the whole family involved — enjoy an afternoon walk or bike ride with your kids. Play with your kids — tumble in the leaves, build a snowman, splash in a puddle, or dance to favorite music.
  • Walk up and down the soccer or softball field sidelines while watching the kids play.
  • Walk the dog frequently
  • Clean the house or wash the car.
  • Drive less: walk, bike or take public transportation
  • Do stretches, exercises, or pedal a stationary bike while watching television.
  • Mow the lawn with a push mower.
  • Plant and care for a vegetable or flower garden.

Training on Adjusting Your Computer Workstation

EHS staff are available to train computer users on how to adjust their computer workstations and work safely. Contact the individuals listed to the right to arrange a training session.

Reporting a Work-Related Computer Injury

For employees, all work-related injuries must be reported to Employee Health at University Health Services at 609-258-5035.

If you believe you are experiencing an injury due to the setup or use of your computer workstation, contact Employee Health at 609-258-5035 (for employees) or Student Health at 609-258-3141 (for undergraduate and graduate students).

For more information on reporting work related injuries, go to the Injury & Incident Reporting page.

Additional Computer Workstation Resources

For more information on computer workstation adjustments and safe computing, please see the following external links: