workstation setup Apr 10, 2019

We all know that budget is super important to our clients and their company when we’re doing any full ergonomic assessment gig. Whatever we recommend in an assessment must match the employer’s predetermined budget or even the specific vendors that they prefer to work with; it’s essential to nailing the job and securing future work.

Just like life there are certainly curve balls with ergonomic assessments. This is a common one that I’ve seen: What do you do in situations where you know significant ergonomic changes are required but there is little-to-no budget?

Before we dive into this let’s first talk about strategy. In any ergonomic assessment, our primary focus as ergonomic assessors is to adjust what we can to reduce observed ergonomic risk, especially if there’s been any reported discomfort. To achieve this often times all you need to do is adjust their workstation for neutral posture. Doing just this won’t work every time, otherwise it would almost be too-good-to-be-true, but it does give us a really good place to start to get that workstation back into a neutral working position.

Let’s dive more into this. This post is the first in a series of 3 that breaks down the most common types of ergonomic recommendations based on an employer’s budget. If you are a subscriber to this blog (which I recommend that you should totally do if you haven’t yet) you know that in many cases improving the ergonomic layout of someone’s workstation doesn’t need to cost a lot of money.

The focus of this post is just to share with you what you can change that will not cost anything, scroll down to find out more!

4 No-Cost Ways To Improve Workstation Ergonomics

To win at this, the 4 suggestions below all are in-line with improving neutral postures of the office workstation. Workstations must fit that person like a really well-fit glove; similarly our goal in ergonomics is to have everything in that person’s workstation adjusted just right for them so that workstation feels like it was made for their body (just like a really nice glove). I describe some cost-effective frameworks that I’ve used in the past below… enjoy!

1. Monitor

Let’s start off with their monitor. Ergonomically speaking, the screen of the monitor should be slightly below resting eye height. In my experience the majority of monitors are too high for users resulting in that person looking upwards to view their work. It’s no surprise that a common complaint that I also hear is neck discomfort; its just too high and not neutral. The natural viewing angle is about 15 degrees below the horizontal, not upwards. Addressing this workstation concern is fairly simple. You can see what I’m talking about in this graphic – the top of the monitor screen should be just slightly below neutral eye height.

Depending on how the workstation is set-up, it could be that you’ll need to raise or lower their monitor with their monitor stand -there’s no need to buy a brand new monitor arm or riser. If the monitor must be raised, a cost-effective (aka cheap) way to do this is to use old textbooks, paper etc.

Here’s the twist and it can get a little complex to do this ‘fully’ no cost: if the monitor is too high, above a neutral sitting position and there is no way to lower the monitor. To tackle this without spending money, a good method is to raise the user in their chair (which includes placing a footrest below their feet if there is no contact) and also includes paying close attention to the other workstation heights to make sure everything stays within a neutral working position. But here’s the thing: this strategy should be used as more of a temporary solution until money can be found in the budget, as stated in these standards. The reason why is that if the workstation is too high that it requires a footrest to jump up on to get to the chair, then there’s a falling risk. No one wants that!

Pro-tip 1: To get ultimate neck comfort see if you can tilt the bottom of your monitor upwards at about 15 degrees.

Pro-tip 2: More than one monitor? Position the monitor that is used for about 70% of the time directly in front of the user. Make sure that your monitors form a semi-circle around them with minimal neck movements to view all the screens.

2. Mouse

Certainly when we are talking about mousing, the type of mouse that is used plays a big part. However the type of mice that could be recommended will be talked about in Part 2 & 3. In this section I’ll be talking about placement and technique of using the mouse. 

Placement. There’s a couple of things to be optimized about placement: the height and reach. In terms of height, the hand working height should be just slightly lower than the user’s elbow height. The reach should be within 46cm/18″, measured from the centre of the user’s mousing shoulder. If the user is reaching too far it can put an excessive amount on the shoulder and be related to shoulder and upper body complaints. It’s a simple and straight-forward measurement to check so pull out those measuring tapes! 

Technique. There begins to be ergonomic concerns in the hand, forearm, and elbow when the user grips the mouse excessively, moves their wrist side-to-side (radial/ulnar deviation), or wrests their palm on the desk while mousing (creating a contact stress). Also the risk would be compounded if all 3 of these risks were done simultaneously. If you note any of these during an assessment, you can give that person some feedback as a way to improve their habits to reduce ergonomic risk. But you should know that engineering solutions will always be more of a value-add than just behavioral solutions (aka technique coaching) by themselves. In this case it would mean a different type of mouse (something we’ll discuss in parts 2 & 3). For now you can give that person some feedback to use a lighter grip, align the wrist with the forearm during movements, maybe increase the mouse speed, and hover their wrist over the work surface during mousing or get something soft (like a towel) to rest the wrist on.

3. Keyboard

The thing with a standard keyboard (you know that type of keyboard with the number pad attached to the right hand side), is that it introduces ergonomic risk into the workstation. For many of us (let’s say the vast majority), it’s far too long for a neutral mousing position. And using a standard keyboard (see the graphic below) can result in shoulder discomfort and pain overtime because there is more of a reach to mouse. No one wants this, right?

A simple, cost-effective method to improve this workstation, is to switch to left handed mousing. Yup. As easy as that. Simply switching to left handed mousing automatically places the mouse in an optimal working position and can immediately relieve strain on the right shoulder. It’s a quick, no-cost, and handy (pun intended) way to eliminate prolonged and awkward right shoulder mousing positions. I know that it may sound crazy to mouse with the non-dominant hand aka left hand, but it’s easier than many of us think. When I made the switch, it took me a few days to become adequate and about a full week to master left handed mousing.

4. Chair

Quality chairs can be very expensive – between $700-$1,200 for just one chair. For many employers and those who are self employed/start-ups this is definitely a large investment to consider especially when you are just starting your company. But here’s some perspective: a good chair can last a decade (or longer) and many chair manufacturers offer at least a 10-year warrantee. In the next posts (Parts 2&3) I’ll get into the specific things that you’ll have to recommend to a client when you want to recommend a new chair. But for right now let’s focus on the basics and making sure that their chair fits them like a glove.

Let’s talk about optimizing the chair so it fits your client extremely well. First of all, in any ergonomic assessment, you want to check with your client if they are familiar with their chair and how to adjust it so it’s comfortable for them. Usually there is a manual that has come with the chair and if not it can easily be sourced on the internet. If no success there are several ‘rules of thumb’ that can be applied to adjusting any chair that I’ve found to be useful whenever I come across a chair that I was unfamiliar with:

  • The chair height adjustment lever is usually near the front of the seat pan
  • The seat pan slider (depth adjustment) is usually positioned underneath the front ‘waterfall’ edge of the chair
  • The backrest angle tilt adjustment lever is usually near the back of the seat, near the backrest and on the right hand side
  • The lumbar support density can usually be adjusted by inflating/deflating an air bladder or changing/adjusting its shape until the client finds it more comfortable
  • The lumbar support position can usually be adjusted by raising or lowering the height of the backrest, and this is usually done by turning a little knob at the base of the backrest and either raising or lowering its height

Remember that according to research, the most important aspect for minimizing the risk of long-term back pain is the degree that a person uses their lumbar support. And, for a person to use their chair’s lumbar support they’ll have to find it to be comfortable. Of course part of this solution is ensuring that the entire workstation is adjusted for neutral posture, but the second part is ensuring that the chair is fully adjusted for them.

In Closing

It is possible to make changes in the office without an investment but it will definitely take effort to do so! The degree of your client’s discomfort and the budget for any recommendations will definitely steer what you recommend, so look for Parts 2 & 3 coming out soon. No matter what you choose to do to address the ergonomic risk in the workstation, the key thing is to bring things back to within neutral posture. Do that and you’ll bring your client TONS of value.

One Last Thing… 

If you liked this post, please share! It helps to get the word out!! If you are interested in more ergonomics info I’d love to see you join the newsletter (via pop-up) so I can let you know when new blog posts drop! 😃


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