Many jobs are now desk-based and require workers to spend several hours a day in front of a computer.

If you are working at a desk and using a computer for hours at a time then it is important that you take steps to ensure that your seated position is not compromised. Workstations that are poorly set up can lead to injury or long term pain.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the scientific study of interactions between humans and other factors (environment, task and device) that can play a part when attempting to complete an activity. When thinking about ergonomics in the workplace it aims to fit the job to the person, rather than the other way round.

Good ergonomics brings together the task, environment and the equipment being used. Therefore if you are required to sit at a desk in front of a computer screen for long periods of time, your workstation set up can have a significant impact on how you feel and your productivity levels. A well-thought out work station has the potential to increase productivity and even decrease sick days.

Aim for a neutral sitting position

If you are sitting for a long period of time you should aim for your body to be aligned in a neutral sitting position. This is where minimal strain is placed on any of your muscles and joints.

To achieve a neutral sitting position, you should ensure:

  • Feet are flat on the floor.
  • Legs are not crossed.
  • Feet and knees are hip width apart.
  • The back is not rounded or overextended.
  • The head, shoulders and hips form a vertical line.

The position you hold your body in when working can significantly impact how you feel on a daily basis. Good posture can reduce the risk of aches and strains and may even contribute to a better mood.

Setting up your desk space

Let’s take a look at the different components that frequently make up an office desk workstation:

  • Chair

A good quality chair should support the curves of your back and be comfortable to sit on. Ideally you should be able to adjust the chair height so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, knees are at approximately 90 degrees and that your feet rest flat on the floor.

If your chair has armrests they should not force your arms out of the neutral position.

  • Keyboard and mouse

Input devices that are frequently used with your computer, such as keyboards and mice, should be within easy reach. Frequently used input devices for your computer should not impede on your neutral body position.

Your keyboard and mouse should be positioned so that you can use them with your forearms parallel to the desk, with an approximate 90 degree angle at the elbow. If possible alternate your mouse between the left and right sides.

  • Monitor

Your computer screen should be well lit and allow you to focus on the words and images without having to strain your eyes. The lighting in the room should not cause glare on your screen. The screen should be approximately an arm’s length away directly in front of you. The top of the monitor should be level with your eyes.

If you use more than one monitor, the screens should be placed close together and at the same height. This should help to minimise head and neck movements.

Focusing on your computer screen for hours on end can lead to eye fatigue and headaches. You should aim to look away from your screen, and focus on something that is at a different distance from your eyes, every so often.

  • Telephone

If you use a telephone on a regular basis, or have to talk and type at the same time, then you may benefit from using a headset device. If a headset is not available you should refrain from holding the phone between your shoulder and your neck, as this could lead to repetitive strain injury.

Your telephone should be within easy reach to prevent overstretching.

  • Desk

The space underneath your desk should be clear. It should allow you to comfortably fit your lower body when you are seated on your chair. The desk should be big enough to accommodate the input devices you use as well as any other important items.

How to maintain health at work

Even when your workspace has been optimised it is still important to take regular short breaks throughout the working day. Stationary positions can inhibit blood flow and lead to aches and pains.

Movement and stretching can help to alleviate potential musculoskeletal problems and prevent repetitive strain injuries. You should try and move about and stretch different muscles every hour if possible.

This can be as simple as getting up and walking to get a drink, speak to a colleague or pick up a printout.

If you have concerns about your workstation set up at your workplace you should speak to your employer. They may be able to make suggestions or provide you with adapted devices.

Why having a good workstation set up is important

You should feel happy and comfortable when you’re at your place of work.

If your workstation is not set up with you and your task in mind then it is possible it could lead to injury and/or ill health.

Should I get a standing desk?

It is unclear whether opting for a standing desk will directly benefit health. It has been suggested that any stationary position held for too long can lead to poorer health outcomes.

However, if you have found that a prolonged seated position has contributed to pain and injury in the past then it could be worthwhile exploring a standing desk option.

It would be wise to approach a switch to a standing desk with caution. Standing for prolonged periods can also potentially cause problems, therefore you may prefer to alternate between the two.