I asked ChatGPT to list the most frequently asked questions about ergonomics. Here are the answers from our Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomists:
What is ergonomics and why is it important?
Ergonomics is the science and art of fitting work to people. Using physical ergonomics allows people to work comfortably, without risk of strain/sprain injury. Comfortable workers are more productive, more engaged, and produce better quality work. Similarly, using cognitive ergonomics allows people to work without excessive mental strain, and this also results in better safety, productivity, quality, and engagement.
How can I set up my workspace ergonomically?
An “ergonomic” workspace is one that allows you to sit or stand in what ergonomists call a “neutral” posture. Typically, this means that your back is upright, with your upper arms hanging at the side of the body and the head balanced nicely over your body. Your wrists should be straight, and your forearms, typically, should be in the handshake position.. When you have to bend or reach away from this position, your body experiences some strain. If this strain is repetitive or prolonged, you might be at risk of discomfort or injury.
What are the common ergonomic injuries and how can I prevent them?
In office environments, the most common injuries relating to poor ergonomics are back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and knee pain. If possible, arrange your workstation so you can work in a neutral posture. Take very short micro breaks a couple of times per hour – even standing up, taking a deep breath, and reaching for the ceiling may be enough to offset a half hour of sitting!
In industrial environments, we see the same types of injuries, but related to different causes. In industry, jobs can be heavier, more awkward, and more repetitive. Employers can change the design of the jobs, but aside from reporting your concerns and ideas to your supervisor, employees can really only control their own health and work practices. Keep yourself fit for work by exercising regularly. Consult with experienced workers to ask if there are tips or tricks that you could learn to make your job easier.
P.S. Ergonomists don’t like to use the phrase “ergonomic injuries” because it sounds like ergonomics caused the injury when, in fact, it’s the lack of ergonomics that caused the injury. Kind of like secure breaches, tactical errors, or seamless disruptions.
How do I choose the right ergonomic office chair?
An ergonomist can measure key dimensions to identify whether you need a chair with special features such as a lower seat pan, a wider seat pan, or a deeper lower back support. If you don’t have an ergonomist, go to the showroom and try out all the chairs, just like Goldilocks, looking for one that is not too high and not too small, but just right. When you sit all the way to the back of the seat, you should be able to adjust the chair’s seat, back and armrests so that:
- Your feet are firmly supported on the floor
- There is 2-3 finger gap between the back of your knee and the front edge of the seat
- The lumbar support in the chair fits nicely into the curve in your lower back
- The angle of the backrest is very slightly reclined, and your shoulder blades rest against the backrest.
- The armrests adjust so they are just under your forearms with your shoulders relaxed. They should not prevent you from pulling your chair close to the desk.
What are the best ergonomic keyboard and mouse options?
A keyboard should allow you to type with your wrists straight. When you look down at your hands at the keyboard, if your elbows are far apart, your forearms angle in toward the keyboard, and your wrists are bent, then you should try a split or “ergonomic” keyboard.
A mouse should fit your hand, so you don’t feel like you’re reaching to press the buttons, and your hand is not cramped up in a “claw” grip. Many people now prefer the “vertical” mouse design, which keeps the hand in a “thumb up” posture, which is considered more neutral. Not everyone likes this, though, so again, it’s worthwhile to visit the supplier and try them in your hand before buying.
How can I improve my posture while sitting or standing?
If I could provide only 3 pieces of advice for sitting, they would be:
- Sit all the way to the back of the seat. If you sit on the edge or middle of the seat, you will slouch into the backrest and that can cause back pain.
- Make sure that your lumbar (lower back) curve is supported when sitting.
- Adjust the height and position of your screen so you can look at the screens without tipping your head up or down, and without too much neck twisting.
- Take it easy. Standing all day will be just as uncomfortable as sitting all day. If you have a sit/stand option, vary your posture often during the day.
- Barefoot is only for the beach! Wear supportive footwear while standing to work.
- Make sure that your keyboard and mouse adjust to elbow height, and your screens will adjust to eye height. This is important for sitting AND standing. Many sit/stand desks on the market do not offer sufficient range to allow this.
How does ergonomics affect productivity and comfort?
If you’ve ever tried to finish a task while you were very uncomfortable, you experienced how poor ergonomics affects productivity and comfort. Most of us have driven those last 100 km instead of stopping for a break, spent two hours sitting unsupported on the floor with a toddler, or helped someone move a sofa up four flights of stairs. These tasks involve poor ergonomics.
When a job is designed “ergonomically”, we work in comfortable positions. When we are comfortable, we can get the job done more efficiently. And – bonus – we’re more engaged with the task and less likely to make mistakes.
What are some common misconceptions about ergonomics?
Many people think ergonomics applies only in office environments, but in fact we do more work in industrial settings than in offices.
People sometimes think that an ergonomist is supposed to teach workers the “right” way to do the job. In fact, ergonomics is intended to modify the job to fit the worker (not figure out how to make the worker fit the job!)
I hope you enjoyed this series of “FAQs” about ergonomics. If you have more questions you’d like us to address here, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.