If you google ‘office ergonomics’ you will find hundreds of pictures like the ones above. It illustrates a ‘perfect’ setup of a typical office workstation: keyboard at elbow height, forearms supported, foot rest, monitor just below eye level, etc. This type of set-up is considered the best because it keeps our posture neutral, which is a position of the least stress on our muscles and joints. Therefore, in theory, it makes sense that these diagrams keep appearing over and over. However, a question that is often asked is:
‘Does making these minor workstation changes actually help prevent repetitive strain injuries?’
I attended the Association of Canadian Ergonomists conference a few years ago, and a Harvard researcher attempted to answer this question. His team reviewed thousands of studies and picked out the ones of the highest quality and came to this conclusion:
‘There is NO evidence that making workstation adjustments ALONE will help prevent repetitive strain injuries’.
As surprising as it sounds, I have come across many workstations that are set up ‘perfectly’ but the person continues to struggle with discomfort and soreness. Does it mean we should ignore the diagram? Not at all, but it does tell us that using a diagram or making minor adjustments based on our height should be used ONLY as a starting point for our posture instead of the ultimate goal. You need to take into account your natural working posture, equipment, work demands, rest breaks and even psychological issues.
The next post will provide some other surprising conclusions about office ergonomics and explain the step-by-step process for you to critically review your work station.