I have highlighted the key aspects of a good workstation posture in the diagram below:
- Use a footrest if your feet are not flat on the floor after adjusting the height of your chair so that your forearms are able to rest horizontally at desk height
- If your knees are higher than your hips when your forearms are resting horizontally at desk height, consider raising the height of your desk
- Keyboard and mouse should be reachable without stretching - you should be able to sit back in your chair and keep your upper arms roughly at right angles to your forearms
- When using a laptop for long periods, try to use a separate keyboard and mouse, raising the laptop so that the top of the screen is at eye level
- If you are getting headaches from using a computer with a correctly positioned monitor it may be worth considering zooming in on whatever you are viewing on the screen to prevent eye strain or neck pain struggling to see your work; regular eye tests are also a good idea if your work is computer-based (daily, for continuous periods of an hour or more) and you are entitled to have these arranged by your employer
- Remember to get up and move regularly - short, frequent breaks are better than long, infrequent ones
Ideally, you should get someone to observe you at your workstation and help set it up to the above parameters. Many employers offer workstation assessments for their employees and they are definitely worth taking advantage of if available as part of your workplace induction. If you have not had your workstation assessed and you have any concerns about your desk set-up at any time during your employment, ask your boss to arrange an assessment for you.
In many cases, improving your working environment is enough to eliminate the physical discomfort you were experiencing. However, if you still experience problems following your workstation assessment you may wish to consider consulting an osteopath for investigation and treatment of your symptoms, along with advice on such things as improving your posture, flexibility and core muscle support.
The following may help users:
- Forearms should be approximately horizontal and the user’s eyes should be the same height as the top of the screen.
- Make sure there is enough work space to accommodate all documents or other equipment. A document holder may help avoid awkward neck and eye movements.
- Arrange the desk and screen to avoid glare, or bright reflections. This is often easiest if the screen is not directly facing windows or bright lights.
- Adjust curtains or blinds to prevent intrusive light.
- Make sure there is space under the desk to move legs.
- Avoid excess pressure from the edge of seats on the backs of legs and knees. A footrest may be helpful, particularly for smaller users.
Keyboards and keying in (typing)
- A space in front of the keyboard can help you rest your hands and wrists when not keying.
- Try to keep wrists straight when keying.
- Good keyboard technique is important – you can do this by keeping a soft touch on the keys and not overstretching the fingers.
Using a mouse
- Position the mouse within easy reach, so it can be used with a straight wrist.
- Sit upright and close to the desk to reduce working with the mouse arm stretched.
- Move the keyboard out of the way if it is not being used.
- Support the forearm on the desk, and don’t grip the mouse too tightly.
- Rest fingers lightly on the buttons and do not press them hard.
Reading the screen
- Make sure individual characters on the screen are sharp, in focus and don’t flicker or move. If they do, the DSE may need servicing or adjustment.
- Adjust the brightness and contrast controls on the screen to suit lighting conditions in the room.
- Make sure the screen surface is clean.
- When setting up software, choose text that is large enough to read easily on screen when sitting in a normal comfortable working position.
- Select colours that are easy on the eye (avoid red text on a blue background, or vice versa).
Changes in activity
Breaking up long spells of DSE work helps prevent fatigue, eye strain, upper limb problems and backache. As the employer you need to plan, so users can interrupt prolonged use of DSE with changes of activity. Organised or scheduled rest breaks may sometimes be a solution.
The following may help users:
- Stretch and change position.
- Look into the distance from time to time, and blink often.
- Change activity before users get tired, rather than to recover.
- Short, frequent breaks are better than longer, infrequent ones.
Timing and length of changes in activity or breaks for DSE use is not set down in law and arrangements will vary depending on a particular situation. Employers are not responsible for providing breaks for the self-employed.
These same controls will also reduce the DSE risks associated with portable computers. However, the following may also help reduce manual handling, fatigue and postural problems:
- Consider potential risks from manual handling if users have to carry heavy equipment and papers.
- Whenever possible, users should be encouraged to use a docking station or firm surface and a full-sized keyboard and mouse.
- The height and position of the portable’s screen should be angled so that the user is sitting comfortably and reflection is minimised (raiser blocks are commonly used to help with screen height).
- More changes in activity may be needed if the user cannot minimise the risks of prolonged use and awkward postures to suitable levels.
- While portable systems not in prolonged use are excluded from the regulations some jobs will use such devices intermittently and to support the main tasks. The degree and intensity of use may vary. Any employer who provides such equipment still has to risk assess and take steps to reduce residual risks.