Although using a computer may not look physically strenuous, it can take a toll on the user's body. Maintaining a seated posture and performing the repetitive tasks required to use a computer over long periods of time can lead to injuries that compromise a worker's good health and quality of life. Guidelines from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) outline steps you can take to improve your office ergonomics and, as a result, prevent computer workstation-related injuries.
OSHA introduced guidelines on ergonomic computer workstations to reduce the incidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder tendinitis. Such disorders represent the largest job-related injury and illness problem in the United States, costing companies more than £9 billion a year in workers' compensation and leaving many workers temporarily or permanently disabled. The OSHA ergonomics guidelines are intended to raise awareness of these problems, as well as the often easy and inexpensive posture, workstation and environment adjustments that can avert them.
OSHA standards outline the best way to set up a computer workstation to maintain neutral body positioning, which OSHA defines as "a comfortable working posture in which your joints are naturally aligned." For example, arrange your workstation so that you are sitting with hands, wrists and forearms straight, in line and roughly parallel to the floor to reduce physical stress and strain. Change your working posture often throughout the day by adjusting your chair, stretching or taking walks.
OSHA also specifies proper arrangement of computer workstation components and accessories to allow for a comfortable, neutral working position. For example, place the monitor 20 to 40 inches from your eyes to avoid awkward positions that can strain the neck, back and eyes. Use a mouse pad with a wrist or palm rest to maintain neutral wrist positioning. Similar standards exist for proper ergonomics of keyboards, document holders, desks, chairs and telephones.
According to OSHA, the right work environment lighting, ventilation and humidity can maximise user comfort and productivity and prevent injury. Use window blinds or drapes to reduce glare or bright light around your screen to prevent eye strain and support neutral body posture. Add task lighting to illuminate writing and reading surfaces. Also, avoid placing desks and chairs directly above or below air conditioning vents to increase comfort and prevent overly dry eyes.
Small problems related to improper workstation ergonomics can develop into serious injuries, especially if workers ignore or fail to address early warning signs. Learn about the signs and symptoms that can indicate a workstation-related musculoskeletal disorder and the steps you can take to prevent them in the first place. If you do begin to have discomfort that could be computer workstation-related, don't wait; seek a medical evaluation.
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