There are many potential health risks of working at a computer frequently. Your computer set up is one element of office work or home working that should be considered when preventing injury. Following the correct computer ergonomics can minimise your risk of computer vision syndrome and other injuries.
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Working at a computer for prolonged periods can be harmful to your overall health when you don’t monitor your working environment. An unhealthy workstation set up can cause a range of injuries and health issues, including dry eyes, neck, and backache. It some cases, it can even lead to poor digestion, headaches, repetitive stress injury and vision problems.
Computer vision syndrome refers to a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer use. Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include the following:
Just like other digital devices, computers can cause dry eyes, as they can affect the way we blink. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, a person blinks up to 66 percent less frequently while using a computer. If you are blinking less, tears on your eyes have more time to evaporate, resulting in red and dry eyes. This can even cause blurred vision in some cases.
Eyestrain can occur when we force our eyes to focus in an unhealthy, unnatural position. For example, if our monitor is placed at an awkward angle or too low, our eyes are forced to stay in an unnatural position. These awkward postures strain the eye muscles and can cause pain and aching.
Blurred vision is commonly caused by looking at a screen that is too bright or sitting too close to a monitor. It can also be caused by looking at a screen for long without adequate breaks.
Headaches are a common complaint from people who spend prolonged periods sat at a computer. Headaches can occur due to poor lighting in your workspace, glare on the screen, improper computer brightness and color. Headaches can also be caused by eye strain.
Our eyes are more comfortable resting at a point that is further away from the screen. When we look at a computer, our eye muscles have to constantly readjust focus between the RPA and the front of the screen. When there is a conflict between where our eyes want to focus and where we force them to be focused can lead to strain and the eyes become tired. This can often be the cause of our office headache.
Workers often adopt to a certain position to see the screen better. Straining your muscles to look at a computer is a common cause of back and neck ache, as your body forced into an unnatural position. This is particularly a problem when people find themselves looking down to see their computer screen rather than adjusting the monitor to match their eye level.
You can read more about back ache caused by office work here.
Carpal tunnel is a condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm. It causes when one of the major nerves to the hand – the median nerve, is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist. This is commonly caused by the wrong mouse and keyboard placement.
Computer ergonomics addresses ways to optimise your computer workstation to reduce the specific risks of computer vision syndrome, neck and back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. It also reduces the risk of other disorders affecting the muscles, spine, and joints.
Placing your computer monitor so it is not level with your eyeline is a common cause of computer vision syndrome and back and neck injury. To avoid health issues and screen glare, position computer monitors and display screens so they are:
The following images displays the correct computer monitor placement:
If you struggle to place your computer in the right position for your eyeline, you may benefit from an adjustable monitor arm. Using an adjustable monitor arm can help promote and enhance comfort and performance, minimising health risks.
To prevent headaches and computer vision syndrome, you should ensure you adjust your monitor so that its brightness is approximately equal to the area behind it. If you find yourself experiencing computer vision frequently, it may be time to adjust your computer screen brightness.
If you still experience screen glare, you can cover your computer with an anti-glare filter and wear anti-glare glasses.
The mouse should be positioned so it keeps your arms at or below a 90-degree angle. Your wrists should not be straining, nor should they feel uncomfortable during use. The image below demonstrates how a hand should be placed comfortably on the mouse:
If you still uncomfortable holding the mouse, you can invest in a wrist rest.
You can read our full guide to typing ergonomics here.
Ergonomic experts recommend placing a keyboard just below elbow level. Your keyboard should be flat on the desk, or gently sloping away from you. You should position your keyboard so your elbows and arms remain as close to your sides as possible. Your arms should sit at or below a 90-degree angle.
If you struggle to maintain the correct keyboard placement and work comfortably, an ergonomic keyboard should be used to achieve a negative tilt. This means the keyboard will be sloping down and away from you, so your arms and hand follow the downward slope of your thighs.
You should organise your ergonomic computer workstation so that key objects are close to you. This could include your phone, notebook, water bottle and any other essential items. This will prevent unnecessary reaching and straining.
Using a hands-free headset can prevent strains from placing our hands in the same position frequently when we answer the phone. It can also prevent shoulder pain if we avoid tucking the phone between our shoulders and ears, which is a common mistake.
You can check your desk is at the right height by resting your arms at your sides in your seating position at your desk. Keep your elbow at a 90-degree angle and your upper arms in line with your torso. Your hands should be rested comfortably on your desk if your desk is at the right height
You can read more about the correct ergonomic sitting position in our guide What is the correct ergonomic sitting posture in the office?
Ergonomic lighting is often ignored in an office, leaving employees to work under harsh, bright lighting. Poor lighting can contribute to headaches, eye pain, tiredness, and un-productivity. Computer desk lighting ergonomics ensures a person is working under lighting that is adequate and not too bright or faulty.
When possible, a sit-stand workstation is always recommend. The product was introduced to keep employees as active as possible and prevent common injuries that occur from sitting for too long. They can provide the following benefits:
Our Active Electric Sit Stand Workstation instantly converts any desk into a sit-stand workstation.
With the current COVID 19 pandemic, many of us are now working from home and unable to go into our offices. When working from home, it can be hard to know the best position to work in and the right equipment placement.
If you can, avoid working from a laptop. Working from a laptop often means you are looking down and are therefore at risk of neck and back pain. The smaller screen of a laptop often also means we are tempted to place it closer to our eyes than necessary.
When working from home, it can be tempting to be more relaxed about the placement of your monitor. However, try and work in the same way as you would in the office. Follow our guidance on the correct monitor placement to reduce the risk of injury and health issues.
Not only can working away from a proper desk reduce your motivation and productivity; it can also be a cause of back and neck pain. When you are working in your bed or on the sofa, your neck is not fully supported by an effective ergonomic office chair. Working away from your desk also means your monitor or laptop is not positioned so it meets your eye line, increasing the risk of injuries and computer vision syndrome.
For guidance on all the aspects of ergonomics when working, read our guide Ergonomic factors in the workplace.