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Ergonomics for the Office

Definition of Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science and practice of designing jobs and workplaces to match the capabilities and limitations of the human body. The focus of ergonomics is fitting the work to the worker, instead of making the worker fit the work. By following sound ergonomic principles, we are able to promote employee health by decreasing workplace exposure to the risk of ergonomic injury caused by awkward or static positions and repetitive stress.

Ergonomic Injury

If present, an ergonomic injury, also known as a musculoskeletal disorder, or MSD, will usually appear in the soft tissues of the body-the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, arteries and veins.  Symptoms of an ergonomic injury can include: discomfort or pain; swelling; stiffness, tight muscles, loss of flexibility in a joint; unusual sensations-numbness, tingling, burning, heaviness, "pins and needles" or "falling asleep"-of the hands, arms, legs or feet; shooting or stabbing pains in arms or legs; weakness or clumsiness in hands, and dropping things.  Having one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have an injury, but if the symptoms are persistent or worsen, you should report them to your supervisor and request an ergonomic assessment by the Safety and Risk Management Office. Prompt implementation of workstation and behavioral changes can significantly reduce the potential for severe injuries. You can also request an ergonomic assessment to ensure that your workstation is set up properly and to determine things you should do to prevent ergonomic injury.

Preventing Ergonomic Injury

The key to preventing an office ergonomic injury is having a proper workstation setup. See the Healthy Workstation Guidelines by Humanscale for more information.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) web site offers an eTool that allows an individual to conduct an ergonomic self-assessment to create a safe and comfortable computer workstation based on good ergonomic practices (http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/index.html).

Another important measure to prevent ergonomic injury is to take micro-breaks, e.g., by following the "20-20-20 Rule." Every 20 minutes, look up from your computer and look at something 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Taking micro-breaks does not decrease productivity and will help to prevent MSD's. You can also do other things to "give yourself a break", such as: Move your printer to an area that requires you to stand up and walk to get your printout. Stand up for telephone calls. Go to the restroom or get a cup of coffee/water. Alter your tasks—break up continuous computer time by checking telephone messages, reading reports, etc.

Stretching can help increase flexibility and loosen tight muscles that could contribute to an ergonomic injury. Try stretching while you take your micro-break. See the Musculoskeletal Exercises and Stretches for exercises and stretches that will help prevent ergonomic injury.

Ergonomic Assessment Process

Employees who believe that they are in need of an ergonomic assessment should first let their supervisor know that they wish to have such an assessment performed. The supervisor will then contact the Safety and Risk Management Office with their specific request. The purpose of this is to ensure that the supervisor is aware of possible departmental expenditures if an assessment's recommendations include the procurement of workstation equipment (e.g., a task chair, keyboard tray, etc.). If the supervisor has no funds available for the purchase, he/she should request funding from their department head, followed by the department dean and, finally, the campus Provost, as necessary. In the case of business services employees whose department's budget would not allow for the purchase, the department head should request funds from the Vice President of Administration & Business Services. This approval chain for funding must be followed as part of the Ergonomic Assessment Process. Please do not contact your Provost or Vice President directly for funding requests. Your point of contact throughout the process should be your supervisor.

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