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Ergonomics Article – Is It You Or Your Desk Causing Pain?

Ergonomics Article

By Ergonomist Hank Austin

 

Are Your Shoulders and or Upper Back Sore?  It could Be Your Desk!!!

Ergonomics is the science of fitting equipment to people. Typically, we see that people are struggling to fit to their office equipment-including their desks. Most companies have their desks set at one height for all their employees. Here are two examples that might give you a feel for the situation:

  1. If Every golfer is given the same size golf clubs- Why would this be a problem?
    1. This may cause discomfort or even injury.
    2. This may also cause an adverse impact on their productivity.
  2. All shoes are made in one size.
    1. This may cause discomfort or even injury.
    2. This may also cause an adverse impact on their productivity.

Both of these examples illustrate the issues with a one size fits all approach. Very few desks are actually properly fitted and comfortable.

Your initial response could be “This is ridiculous! No one would ever do that!” The reality is that most fixed desks are set at a height of 29”-30” high and that is way too high for the vast majority of the population that works on computers. We have a population of office workers that sit with their arms up on top of the desk causing a variety of issues including shoulder/upper back discomfort, pain, and/or injury.

Our data shows that an average of 60% of all computer users are in significant discomfort – that can include pain, numbness, and injury. What is this doing to your productivity? What do you think costs more over time: a one-time cost for proper equipment or equipment adjustment or a negative productivity impact that hits every hour, day, week, month and year?

Consider this: I am 6’-2” and the proper desk height for my keyboard is 25”. Yes 25”! That height allows me to sit back in my chair and relax my shoulders when typing, which lets the blood flow through them easily. When your shoulder muscles are contracted from being pushed up, they get tired and can start to hurt. Someone else at 6’-2” will likely have a different desk height than me as they may have a different length torso, lower legs, or upper arms which all impact your correct desk height fit. Good ergonomics is all about improving organizational performance by focusing on individual needs.  A little well directed work in the right places can have big positive impact on the organization!

Desk height is also a big issue when using adjustable sit/stand desks. People do not intuitively know how to properly use this equipment, so they revert to what they’ve always had previously/experienced/known. They use a sit stand the same way they used to when they were forced into a position by a fixed desk that was at an improper height. Many who have a desk adjusted too high or too low when they stand can end up hurting their neck, back, or wrists.

We need to make sure that we are properly identifying these issues and training our people on how to avoid discomfort or injury. The “gold standard” of ergonomics is getting productivity up by making people comfortable! People tend to slow down, make more mistakes, and have difficulty focusing when they are hurting.

So, get your desk adjusted down or your chair up (and use a foot rest) so you can get into a neutral posture!

Hank Austin CSP, MS of ErgoSquad has many years of experience in developing and managing high performing ergonomics programs.