Office worker ergonomics
Officer worker ergonomics

Office worker ergonomics

Safety+Health shares – in pictures – how the National Safety Council conducts ergonomics assessments of workers’ desks and chairs to help prevent MSDs.

March 1, 2014

Musculoskeletal disorders accounted for one-third of all injury or illness cases in the United States in 2011, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Among office clerks, receptionists and administrative support workers, 4,050 MSD cases – including carpal tunnel syndrome and injuries to the neck, shoulder and back – required a median range of 11 to 16 days away from work to recover.

The National Safety Council conducts routine ergonomics assessments of NSC office workstations – including those of remote workers. The following pictorial, featuring NSC employees, depicts an abbreviated ergonomics assessment that can be conducted at a typical office workstation. As with all aspects of ergonomics, no “one-size-fits-all” body position or arrangement of items exists – worker needs may differ from what is shown.

Chair adjustments

An employee should be shown how to adjust his or her chair, which initially should be adjusted to a position that is comfortable but does not strain the joints or muscles.

Click on a tab to view the illustrated recommendation.

Adjust the seat back and seat pan until the lower back is supported and the back of the employee’s legs are not feeling too much pressure.

Maneuver the armrests so the elbows are close to the body – not pushed upward – and are roughly in line with the shoulders (depending on the employee’s preferred sitting posture).

Raise or lower the chair so the employee’s feet are fully supported by the floor or a footrest while allowing enough room between the top of the upper legs and the workstation.

Photos: Ian Palmer
Special thanks to Susan Evangelou and Al Legoo

NEXT: Keyboard and mouse >>




Keyboard and mouse

The computer keyboard and mouse should be comfortably within reach while allowing the forearms, hands and wrists to be roughly parallel to the floor at rest. Wrists in the neutral position should be supported by a wrist or palm support.

Click on a tab to view the illustrated recommendation.

The keyboard should be at about the same height as the forearms and slightly tilted. Keyboard trays can be added to allow the employee to raise or lower the keyboard to his or her comfort level.

The mouse should be close to the keyboard and at the same height, allow use without needing to overly reach or extend, and be far enough away from the edge of the workstation surface that the employee’s wrist does not rest on the edge.

Consider providing the employee with an ergonomic mouse if space on the work surface is limited, and to help prevent or avoid aggravating MSDs.

Photos: Ian Palmer
Special thanks to Susan Evangelou and Al Legoo

NEXT: Monitor and documents >>

Monitor and documents

An employee should be able to easily adjust the height and location of the computer monitor, and reading materials should not require excessive neck movement to view.

Click on a tab to view the illustrated recommendation.

Raise or lower the computer monitor so the top of the screen is at or slightly lower than eye level. Use a monitor riser if necessary to increase height.

To achieve a comfortable viewing distance, have the employee extend his or her arms and adjust the monitor’s distance so that it barely touches the fingertips.

Document holders should be provided to any employee who frequently switches between looking at the screen and paper documents.

To prevent eye strain, experts recommend employees follow the “20-20-20” rule: Glance away from the computer screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds, and focus on an object that is at least 20 feet away.

Photos: Ian Palmer
Special thanks to Susan Evangelou and Al Legoo

NEXT: Additional accessories >>

Additional accessories

Equipment regularly used by the employee should not require awkward postures or repetitive forceful motions. Commonly used items should be placed within easy reach of the employee.

Click on a tab to view the illustrated recommendation.

If an employee uses the phone for an average of one to two hours every day, provide a phone rest or headset.

An employee who uses the phone for an average of two or more hours every day should have a headset.

An ergonomic stapler helps reduce the amount of force required to staple papers together.

An anti-glare device on a computer monitor can help reduce eye strain. The monitor should be kept clean.

A floor mat allows for smoother movement of the chair.

Photos: Ian Palmer
Special thanks to Susan Evangelou and Al Legoo

NEXT: A full assessment >>

A full assessment

This pictorial focuses on the chair and desk of an office workstation. A full ergonomics assessment also takes into account the following:

  • Lighting
  • Office temperature and humidity
  • Noise
  • Space for the worker to change position

Workers should be encouraged to report any workstation-related headaches, pain or discomfort to a supervisor.

Additional resources

Anything to add?

How does your office conduct ergonomics audits? Tell us about it by adding a comment below.