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Guide to Retrofitting Any Office

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
By Anne Kramer

Designing an ergonomic office can seem daunting, especially from a financial standpoint: overhauling an entire office space often represents a significant investment. However, the money spent on an ergonomic office is just that: a wise investment. Ergonomics are ultimately always cost-effective because they consistently save employers money in the long run. Although redesigning the whole office is optimum, this is not always a viable option. Fortunately, economical alternatives exist, allowing any office workstation to be ergonomically retrofitted, both easily and affordably.

Regardless of a worker’s primary tasks, the most important element of preventing injuries is to encourage proper posture. For workers who spend most of their time in front of the computer, a neutral resting position not only minimizes injuries, but also maximizes productivity. To achieve this posture, every part of the body must be properly positioned.

Simple adaptations are available for head-to-toe ergonomics.

  • Head and neck: It is important to minimize both horizontal and vertical motion of the head and neck. A monitor riser elevates the computer screen and eliminates tilting the head forward to read the screen. Meanwhile, left-to-right motion can be reduced with a document holder, which places a document at eye level in close proximity to the computer screen.

  • Back and shoulders: Sitting up straight, with shoulders back, reduces fatigue and helps to keep other body parts in the correct position. A cushion helps to maintain this posture.

  • Arms: Check your keying and mousing position so that your shoulders are relaxed, arms at a slightly open angle (100° to 110°), elbows by your side, and the wrists straight with fingers arched while keying. Armrest pads reduce the discomfort of resting elbows against hard chair arms.

  • Wrists and hands: Regular keyboards and computer mice do not promote the proper position for wrists and hands. The use of a wrist rest provides the necessary support for palms and forearms, and the mouse can be positioned closer with the use of a mouse bridge to minimize unwanted arm extension.

  • Legs and feet: Position the chair height so that feet are resting comfortably and the legs are at a right angle with the knees slightly lower than the hips. If the chair is too high, a footrest is a simple and affordable solution. Generally a three-inch or six-inch footrest provides sufficient height.
These workstation accommodations are most effective when paired with proper practices; workers can implement not only ergonomic tools, but also ergonomic work habits. Placing frequently used items within a sixteen-inch reach alleviates injuries due to repeatedly overreaching. Switching tasks for five to ten minutes of each hour, for instance taking a break from answering phones to file papers, also helps eliminate injuries, along with increasing productivity. Any office space can be made into an ergonomic workstation.

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