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Office Ergonomics

Offices, workstations, and study areas – at home or on campus - should be set up thoughtfully. Every year, over 6.9 million working days are lost because of musculoskeletal disorders. These issues generally progress over time, especially in those who tend to endure prolonged sitting positions or repetitive motions. Failing to take ergonomic precautions when it comes to sitting for a long period of time can result in several musculoskeletal injuries and seriously impact our health. Please consider the information provided below or use the checklist accessible here to properly set up your workstation. 

Contact Campus Safety at labsafety@uthsc.edu for additional assistance or to report concerns.

What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the process of designing or arranging furniture, products, systems, and devices so that they fit individuals that use them to minimize the risk of injury or harm. The purpose is to create a comfortable, safe, and productive work environment by bringing together health and design, with positioning and adjustment.

Good Working Positions

illustration of woman sitting at desk

To understand the best way to set up a computer workstation, it is helpful to understand the concept of neutral body positioning. This is a comfortable working posture in which your joints are naturally aligned. Working with the body in a neutral position reduces stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, and skeletal system and reduces your risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). The following are important considerations when attempting to maintain neutral body postures while working at the computer workstation:

  • Handswrists, and forearmsare straight, in-line and roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Headis level, forward facing, and balanced. Generally it is in-line with the torso.
  • Shouldersare relaxed and upper arms hang normally at the side of the body.
  • Elbowsstay in close to the body and are bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
  • Feetare fully supported by the floor or a footrest may be used if the desk height is not adjustable.
  • Backis fully supported with appropriate lumbar support when sitting vertical or leaning back slightly.
  • Thighsand hips are supported and generally parallel to the floor.
  • Kneesare about the same height as the hips with the feet slightly forward.

Regardless of how good your working posture is, working in the same posture or sitting still for prolonged periods is not healthy. You should change your working position frequently throughout the day in the following ways:

  • Make small adjustments to your chair or backrest.
  • Stretch your fingers, hands, arms, and torso.
  • Stand up and walk around for a few minutes periodically.
  • Perform some of your tasks in standing: computing, reading, phone, meetings.

Upright sitting posture. The user's torso and neck are approximately vertical and in-line, the thighs are approximately horizontal, and the lower legs are vertical.

upright sitting position

Figure 1. Upright sitting posture

woman sitting at desk

Figure 2. The user's torso and neck are approximately vertical and in-line, the thighs are approximately horizontal, and the lower legs are vertical.

Standing

Standing posture. The user's legs, torso, neck, and head are approximately in-line and vertical with feet slightly apart. The user may also elevate one foot on a rest while in this posture.

standing position

Figure 3. Standing posture

woman standing at desk

Figure 4. The user's legs, torso, neck, and head are approximately in-line and vertical with feet slightly apart.

Workstation Environment

Appropriately placing lighting and selecting the right level of illumination can enhance your ability to see monitor images. For example, if lighting is excessive or causes glare on the monitor screen, you may develop eyestrain or headaches, and may have to work in awkward postures to view the screen. Ventilation and humidity levels in office work environments may affect user comfort and productivity.

  • Lighting
  • Glare
  • Ventilation

Reference: Photos, text and accompanying checklist prepared by U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and accessible at this website: eTools : Computer Workstations | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov)

May 26, 2022