A worker’s guide to office ergonomics: everything you need to consider

Although many of us think of an office work environment to be the safest place to work, it can pose many risks to our health. Being aware of the right office ergonomics can protect you from injury, accidents and improve your productivity. There are different types of ergonomics in the office and following each of them correctly can improve your health and safety. This page will cover the different workers’ ergonomics to be aware of, and how to ensure you are following the correct ergonomics.

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What is office ergonomics?

Ergonomics refers to making sure that there’s a perfect fit between a product, the purpose it’s used for, and the person using it. In an office setting, ergonomics relates to items such as chairs, desks, monitor stands and other elements that comprise an employee’s workstation. Office ergonomics focuses on the worker, ensuring the worker is not at risk of injury or health complications.

Why is office ergonomics important for workers?

For the worker, office ergonomics can help prevent injury, boost productivity and work quality. If you are uncomfortable and irritable, this is likely to hinder your performance at work as well as cause injury.

Not following the correct office ergonomics can result in the following common injuries and conditions:

  • Repetitive strain injury. Repetitive strain injury can be caused by consistently sitting in an uncomfortable, unnatural position, as well as common mistakes such as straining. It refers to the pain felt in muscles, nerves, and tendons due to repetitive movements and overuse injury. Whilst it is widely associated with wrist and hand injuries caused by typing, it can also mean a range of painful or uncomfortable conditions of the muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues. Most cases of repetitive strain injuries have their bases in the nerves in the upper body, from the nerves in the neck and shoulders down into the wrists and hands.
  • Back and neck pain. These are often the most common complaints from office workers. This can be due to disc degeneration, or because of the excess pressure being suffered by the spine. Back and neck pain can also be due to a slumped position causing nerve constriction, as the spine and other bones change their position due to the long-term effects of bad posture.

laptop posture examples

  • Joint pain and muscle stiffness. By sitting in a sedentary position for the majority of the day, you are risking joint pain and stiffness. This is particularly common in workers who sit in a slouched or unnatural position, and in those who do not take adequate breaks.
  • Digestive issues. Although this sounds unlikely, sitting in an unhealthy position can impact digestion in some cases. A slouched position can compress your abdominal organs, including your digestive tract. This can have an impact on your metabolism and affects your ability to process food correctly.
  • Impact on breathing ability. In some cases, the incorrect posture in the office can negatively affect your lung capacity and ability to breathe properly. Slouching causes the muscles and tendons in the front of your body to become shortened. The impact of this can make it difficult to take full, deep breaths.
  • Computer vision syndrome. Computer vision syndrome refers to a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer use.
  • Headaches are a common complaint from people who spend prolonged periods sat at a computer. They often occur due to too much glare on the screen and improper computer brightness and color. They are sometimes the result of eye strain.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. One of the most common musculoskeletal disorders, 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.

What office ergonomics should I consider?

There are different types of ergonomics that you should follow if you are an office worker, as most of your working day is likely to be sat at a computer. If you work in an office, you should be aware of the following office ergonomics to prevent injury:

Computer ergonomics

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.

The correct computer ergonomics

Monitor placement

It is possible to strain your eyes by putting your face too close to a screen. Neck injuries also commonly occur when the monitor is placed in an awkward angle or too far from your eye level. Your eyes should be level with the top of your computer monitor.

Position computer monitors and display screens so they are:

  • Level with your eye line to prevent neck and back pain
  • Around an arm’s length away from your body to prevent computer vision syndrome

If you struggle to place your computer in the right position for your eye line, you may benefit from an adjustable monitor arm.

You can read more about monitor arms here. To purchase a monitor arm, you can browse CMD’s selection of ergonomic office products.

monitor arm

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Reducing screen glare

Screen glare can cause eye strain, headaches, and dry eyes. The following steps can be taken to prevent this:

  • Adjust your monitor so that its brightness is approximately equal to the area behind it.
  • If you experience screen glare that isn’t reduced when you have changed the brightness, you can cover your computer with an anti-glare filter and wear anti-glare glasses.

Mouse placement

You should keep your wrists in a neutral position, rather than bent up or down. Your elbow should be bent at 90 degrees when you are using a mouse. Your wrists should not be straining, nor should they feel uncomfortable during use.

mouse placements

What is an ergonomic mouse?

A good ergonomic mouse fits snugly into your hand and is designed to suit the amount of clicking, scrolling, and browsing you do. They can keep your hand in as comfortable a position as possible. This allows you to work for longer without feeling discomfort.

You can read more about computer ergonomics here. 

Posture ergonomics

Ergonomic sitting posture means studying an individual’s sitting position in the office. Following proper posture ergonomics ensures you sit in a way that maximises comfort and efficiency. Paying attention to your posture reduces your risk of pain, discomfort and work-related injuries.

The correct posture ergonomics

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor, as this keeps the pelvis balanced, making it easier for you to arch your lower back.
  • Keep your elbows at the side of your body, so your arm forms an L-shape at the elbow joint.
  • Keep a straight back and sit up straight, so your bones, ligaments, muscles, and joints can align themselves.
  • Ensure you are sat with your hip far back in your chair.
  • Your knees should ideally be in line with your hips.

The image below demonstrates the correct posture ergonomics:

correct posture

What is a sit-stand desk?

If your company allows you to use a sit-stand desk, using one of these is a good opportunity to stretch your muscles and prevent stiffness. Sit-stand desks allow you to switch between sitting and standing during the workday, with the option of raising the desk. They are a great way to encourage more movement throughout the day.

sit stand

  • Instantly converts any desk into a sit-stand workstation
  • 700mm x 400mm solid working surface
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  • Comes complete with a single and double supports
  • Power-assisted height adjustment

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You can read more about posture ergonomics here.

Typing ergonomics

Typing ergonomics focuses on preventing common workplace injuries such as strains, stress, and damage of joints caused by typing mistakes. Typing ergonomics focuses on setting up desk equipment correctly, as well as how to correctly type at a desk.

When caused by typing incorrectly, repetitive strain injury can cause the following symptoms:

  • Chronically cold hands, particularly the fingertips
  • Weakness in the hands or arms
  • Aching or pain
  • Other common symptoms include swelling, tingling, numbness

Following the correct typing ergonomics can prevent the risks of injury such as wrist ache and repetitive strain injury:

Keyboard placement

  • A keyboard should be placed just below the elbow level. Your keyboard should be flat on the desk, or gently sloping away from you.
  • Keep your elbows at an open angle, at 90-110 degrees, to relax your forearms and shoulders.
  • 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.

What is an ergonomic keyboard?

Ergonomic keyboards are designed to make typing as comfortable as possible. They are used to prevent you from developing repetitive muscle strains and injuries. It is advised to use one of these if possible. You can read about the different types of ergonomic keyboards here.

Wrist placement

  • Keep your wrists in a neutral position, rather than bent up or down.

How do you treat a stiff hand from typing?

You can visit a massage therapist to help with aches and pains in the joints and muscles. They may also recommend specific exercises you can practice to help with the pain and stiffness. Following our advice on mouse and keyboard placement will also help prevent getting a stiff hand.

You can read more about typing ergonomics here.

Additional tips for preventing injuries

The NHS recommends the following tips to improve your posture and prevent injury in the office:

  • Avoid phone strain. If you spend a lot of time on the phone in your office, consider exchanging your handset for a headset. Cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder can strain the muscles in the neck.
  • Don’t cross your legs, as this can contribute to posture-related health problems. Crossing the legs puts pressure on the peroneal nerve, which supplies sensation to your legs and feet.
  • Adjust your chair so your forearms are straight and level with the floor. This prevents repetitive strain injuries.
  • Take regular short breaks, as these are better for your back than fewer long ones.
  • Avoid wearing bifocals. Bifocal glasses mean you may not be able to see the screen properly without having to raise or lower your head frequently.
  • Position the monitor to avoid reflection from overhead lighting and sunlight. If necessary, pull blinds across the windows.

To ensure your equipment is set up ergonomically, you can browse CMD’s full range of ergonomic products here.