Ergonomic factors such as workzonesworkstation height, and proper seating are essential to prevent repetitive stress injuries. Hours spent in front of a computer screen, typing on a keyboard, and manipulating a mouse are root causes of gradual onset injuries such as eye strain, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Virtually every job in America requires using a computer. The US Department of Commerce reported in 2011 (the most recent year for this data) that “Ninety-six percent of working Americans use new communication technologies as part of their daily life, while sixty-two percent of working Americans use the Internet as an integral part of their jobs.”[1] Six years later, both percentages are doubtless much closer to 100%. The majority of “communication devices” used in jobs and schools are desktop computers, laptops, with use of tablets on the rise. Desktop computers or laptops require sitting or standing at a desk or workstation. [Happily, most jobs do not require as many screens as the stock trader shown here.]

The Three Essentials

Consider three factors when setting up a comfortable working position for using a desktop computer or laptop. These help minimize repetitive stress injuries:

  • Screen position
  • Keyboard / mouse position
  • Seating (or standing) position

For most applications, the keyboard, mouse, and screen sit on the worksurface. The best ergonomic layout follows the guidelines described in an earlier post, A 3-Workzone Workstation Delivers Good Ergonomics

The Screen

Place the screen directly in front of the user, about an arm’s length away, toward the rear of the “Secondary Zone.” Adjust screen height so its top is just slightly below eye level.  This prevents having to crane the neck upward.

The Keyboard and Mouse

Place the keyboard and mouse in the “Primary Zone.” This prevents unnecessary strain on fingers, wrists, arms, and shoulders. Aim for a distance that keeps them bent at 90 degrees, comfortably close to the body. Keep the mouse close to the keyboard. A pullout keyboard tray that’s lower than the worksurface works well for tables and benches whose height cannot be easily adjusted.

Seating

Follow the guidelines for seating discussed “Sit Down!” Good posture requires bones and muscles to be lined up; avoid slouching or placing the keyboard/mouse/screen at an angle on the worksurface.

Laptop Computer Ergonomics

In many work and education environments, laptops are replacing traditional desktop systems. The distance between the laptop keyboard and the screen is fixed—and very short. It’s best to follow the keyboard guidelines above. The screen and mouse will follow.

Tablets are great for portability, but they’re generally not well suited as a desktop tool. A separate accessory keyboard and propping up the tablet itself in “laptop style” are virtually mandatory if you’re spending more than a few minutes using a tablet.

Standing and Sitting

Many workers prefer to stand rather than sit. Others like to alternate between sitting and standing for variety to help from getting stiff being in one position for too long. The same computer positioning guidelines apply. Obviously, the worksurface needs to be higher for standing than for sitting. Height adjustable workstations are the ideal solution for sitting or standing computer work. But it should be easy and fast to adjust the worksurface height.

Short Term But Frequent Computer Use

Figure 3: Workstation with screen, keyboard, and mouse mounted on an articulating arm.

Many workstations found at technician stations, laboratories, or on manufacturing and distribution floors require using a computer. These are typically used for simple tasks such as accessing and entering data, entering an address, or typing just a short sentence. There’s rarely room available on the worksurface, which is usually populated with equipment, papers, parts, and assemblies. An articulating arm holding the keyboard, mouse and screen or a laptop tray may be stored out of the way and moved into position as needed.

The Workplace Solution

Workplace Modular Systems has the workstations and computer accessories you need to solve any computer placement need—while achieving an ergonomically correct solution that tangibly demonstrates the organization’s priority for worker and student comfort and health.

[1] http://2010-2014.commerce.gov/news/fact-sheets/2011/05/13/fact-sheet-digital-literacy.html accessed 7/10/17