Friday, August 29, 2008

Ergonomics and You

I will be the first to admit it: I do not sit up straight. Not only do I have a general hunching problem, but I have noticed it is particularly fatal when I happen to be sitting at my desk, staring at a computer screen and editing like a madwoman. If I had a nickel for every time I caught myself slouching at my desk...well, I think you know how the rest of this goes.

The good news is I have stumbled across some amazing ergonomic tips that can and have saved a wretch like me from the early onset of osteoporosis. Compiled by my fellow library coworker Christopher Cuttone in his zine, Ergonomics & You, these tips are killer, but not on your body. While the zine is specific to library ergonomics, anyone who works at a desk for long periods of time will benefit from this wealth of knowledge.

Here a few of my favorites:

Adjusting your workstation. Most of the time you can't adjust the height of your work surface, so adjust what you can.

1. Display Monitor. Position directly in front of you at a minimum of 16 inches. The upper line of characters on the display should be at approximately eye level (or lower for bi-focal wearers).

2. Mouse/Digitizer. Position the tool so the upper arm can be close to the body while maintaining a straight line between the hand and forearm. Most importantly, get that wrist off the table when using the mouse!

3. Keyboard. Maintain the hands in a reasonably straight line with the forearms. A keyboard fitted with a wrist rest supports the wrists.

4. Chair. Adjust the components of the chair to fit the body. Adjust the chair height to allow the upper arm and forearm to form a right angle (or greater) while resting the hands on the keyboard. Don't forget to adjust the back and the angle as well.

5. Footrest. A footrest is helpful for reducing stress to the back of the legs.

It's also important to make sure you're sitting up straight (I should know this better than anyone!) Even with your keyboard at the right height and your arms at the right angle, you might still be hunching your shoulders. Many people store stress and tension in their shoulders, which is why it's important to take breaks during the day to stretch, take deep breaths, and relax the muscles in your body.

This last tip also applies to your eyes. That's right, your eyes! Staring at a computer screen all day can seriously affect your vision. That's why it's important to remember 20/20/20: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This reminds our eyes that they have other jobs to do besides staring at the manuscript a foot in front of them for grammatical errors.

When your workstation is set up in a way that is ergonomically correct, not only will your body thank you in the long run, but just think how more productive you will be!

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