workstation setup Jul 11, 2019

Let's talk assessments. That's right, we're talking the bread and butter of many us out there making a living with ergonomics. 

It could be that you have a background in Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Kinesiology, Health & Safety, Kinesiology (like my undergrad!), or any of the various other landing points that bring you to ergonomics. 

...and there could be many. 

Today I want to share with you a nifty little tip as well as some specific equipment that you can either use yourself (if you wear bifocals) or if you make recommendations to clients. 

So, Let's jump into this blogpost!

So, Is There A 'Perfect' Setup For Bifocals And Progressives? 

Long story short... YES! And I'm going to share with you exactly what to do in this post.. but I want to make sure that we are on the same ergonomic-page first.

So, the end goal of any ergonomic assessment is to minimize risk, improve work flow (if possible), and identify the root causes of any reported discomfort. Highlighting the reasons why someone has those long-lasting aches and pains without all that 'fancy book-learnin' jargon, so that your client actually understands is the goal! 

Fun fact for bifocals: did you know that they were actually invented by Benjamin Franklin? 

Mind. Blown. Yes, almost two hundred years ago, bifocals were invented. Obviously there were not invented with computer-users in mind. Using bifocals would've been oh-so-amazing to read paper documents while being able to see people and other things in your surroundings. But, for the most part, bifocals and progressive usage just doesn't work for a typical modern computer setup. 

Why? Well, I'm going to share with you the exact reasons why in the next section! 

Common Discomfort For Bifocal/Progressive Use

Most people will have their computer lens at the bottom of their lens, so simply put, the 'typical' ergonomic setup (shown below) simply won't work very well for them. 

This typical setup does not work for bifocals and progressives!

An ideal viewing angle is about 15 degrees below the horizontal. That's why we typically angle the monitor upwards (approximately 15 degrees) to match or mirror this. Have you tried that one before? It's pretty much life-changing if I do say so myself. 

So, with this setup (shown above) what typically happens is that the user who is wearing bifocals or progressives must extend their neck (aka flex backwards) in order to have an ideal viewing angle downwards.

In my experience, the user typically can extend their neck for a long period of time (months or years) before they begin to experience discomfort. Discomfort usually can be seen in the neck upper back (trapezius) and even the bilateral shoulders (tends to be more rare). 

How To Setup A Monitor For Bifocals/Progressives 

Simply Put: The monitor has be lowered and given a really healthy upwards tilt for Bifocal and Progressive use! Check out the graphic below to see what I mean: 

Neck extension is considered to be an ergonomic risk. In fact, it is so risky for the developing of discomfort, that even a little neck extension should be eliminated from every workstation. Humans are simply not designed to be looking upwards for any sustained period of time. When extension does occur it strains the muscles in the back of the neck.

If sustained neck extensions occurs for months and even years then more extreme discomfort can develop - impingement and referred discomfort and numbness into the digits (fingers). 

If this occurs, it really can scare people, and at this point is where I typically get a phone call to assess someone's workstation.

The next section I'm going to be talking about solutions. In many cases, if the client has the appropriate equipment, it is a simple and minor adjustment. If they don't there's a few other things that we can do... 

Solutions For The Office

So, let's talk solutions. It's all about solutions anyway. This is why you, as an ergonomics consultant gets called into workplaces to solve people's problems. I'm going to go over several scenarios that you might see, you can simply cherry-pick whatever works for you! 

Scenario 1: Adjustable Monitor Arm OR Stand 

In this first scenario, the workstation already has a height and angle monitor stand. This is by far the most simple scenario. All you would need to do is three steps:

Step 1: Lower the monitor so it's positioned almost (or is!) on the surface of the work surface. 

Step 2: Tilt the monitor upwards as much as you can.

Step 3: Make sure that the user can view the monitor with a neutral neck and if it's comfortable for them. 

Scenario 2: Monitor Arm / Stand Does Not Go Low Enough

With this scenario there are some adjustments, however its just not enough. The angle could be ok, but the monitor just needs to go lower. So what do you do? 

Step 1: Lower the monitor as low as is possible. Angle the monitor upwards as well too. 

Step 2: Raise the chair so that you can still achieve an optimal downward viewing angle. A footrest (or phone books!) will also be required so that the person has stable contact with the floor (we don't want to introduce any more risk into the workstation, right?). In many cases, this is just a temporary solution until an adjustable monitor arm or stand can be purchased. 

Step 3: Make sure that the user can view the monitor with a neutral neck and if it's comfortable for them. 

Scenario 3: Purchase A Monitor Arm / Stand 

Let's talk about bringing in the right equipment to engineer out all of the ergonomic risk! This is by far the best solution because it doesn't depend on the user remembering to have their chair higher than the monitor. 

There is one caveat in this approach. You need to get very specific in your recommendation to make sure the right equipment with just the right adjustments is suggested. Often times the monitor arm or stand does not go low enough for an optimal and neutral neck position. 

So, when you are checking out what's available on the market, you want to pay close attention to equipment that offers a very high adjustment range (to the surface of the desk) with monitor tilt adjustability too! 

And That's It! 

So, what do you think - is it possible for a 'perfect' ergonomic setup for bifocal and progressive use? I do. But I'm quite biased. I'd love to know what you think. Leave a comment below if you've used similar scenarios that I mentioned below and let me know what the results were! 


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