By SCF Arizona Businesses today rely heavily on employees sitting in front of computers for hours at a time. The constant inputting of data and other functions while staring at an illuminated electronic screen can be taxing on various parts of the body, including eyes, back, neck, shoulders, forearms and wrists.
OSHA says inexpensive principles can help businesses create a safe and comfortable computer workstation, but when addressing the ergonomic issue, the federal agency emphasizes no single "correct” posture or arrangement of components will fit everyone.
That’s why OSHA’s principles are only suggestions. They include: · The top of the monitor should be at or just below eye level · Workers should be seated in a manner that ensures their heads and necks are in line with their torsos · Workers should keep their shoulders relaxed and their elbows close to their bodies; elbows should be supported · Chairs at computer workstations should support the worker’s’ lower back · Workers’ wrists and hands should be in line with their forearms
SCF Arizona Loss Control Consultant Carl Hamilton cautioned that if computer monitors are placed too close or too far away from the worker, it could cause the employee to assume an awkward body position that can result in eyestrain.
"Being too far from the monitor can cause you to lean forward, placing stress on the torso, because the backrest is no longer providing support,” he explained.
If the monitor is too close, employees may tilt their heads back or push their chairs too far from the screen, causing them to type with outstretched arms.
Hamilton said when setting up a computer workstation find a comfortable distance – about an arm’s length from the monitor – that allows the user to read all text with head and torso in an upright posture, keeping the back supported firmly by the chair. The keyboard and mouse should be within arm’s length, so the user is not reaching.
He added the screen should be placed directly in front of the worker, because working with the head and neck turned to the side for an extended period puts uneven stress on the neck and back muscles and increases the potential of fatigue and pain.
Computer screens that are set too high cause workers to tilt their heads back, which also causes muscle fatigue and stiffness. If screens are too low, the user tends to look down, which also can strain the neck. That is why Hamilton recommends the main visual area of the display screen be adjusted according to the user’s optimum vision.
Hamilton added it is important to maintain a neutral posture while working in front of a correctly placed screen. This means sit straight up – no leaning – so that you form a 90-degree angle with the arms working on the keyboard, and the upper thighs sitting on the chair. The arms and thighs should be parallel to the floor.
The worker’s chair is a key component of keeping the employee from developing upper back, neck and shoulder or lower back fatigue.
Hamilton said once set, the work station is static, but the chair is not. A chair that is well-designed and adjusted appropriately for the respective worker is an essential element of a safe and productive computer work station. It will provide necessary support to the back, legs, buttocks and arms, while reducing exposures to awkward postures, contact stress and forceful exertions.
"If your current chair doesn’t have lumbar support, use a rolled-up towel or a removable back support cushion to provide support and maintain the natural curve of the spine,” Hamilton said. He added, "Use a chair with a backrest that is easily adjustable and able to support the back in a variety positions.”
He said a backrest should have: · A lumbar support that is height adjustable so it can be placed to fit the lower back. · An adjustment that allows the worker to recline at least 15 degrees from vertical. · An adjustment that enables it to move forward and backward. Hamilton said his best advice for employers looking to protect their workers from ergonomic injuries is to visit these industry-respected collegiate websites: ergonomics.ucla.edu and ergo.human.cornell.edu. Also good advice is offered at www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/.
And, SCF Loss Control consultants can provide policyholders with an ergonomic evaluation.
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