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A Healthier Workplace
January 29, 2012
GW’s Office of Health and Safety offers tips on how to properly sit at a desk to avoid injury.
Many George Washington faculty, staff and students sit in a chair for up to 12 hours a day.
All this sitting can take a toll on the body, in the form of back pain, wrist pain, eye strain and other ailments.
The Office of Health and Safety aims to protect the GW community from these issues by offering online tutorials and tip sheets, educational workshops and workstation evaluations.
“We worry about people who have to do the same things for hours on end,” said William Flint, director of GW’s Office of Health and Safety. “But knowing proper ergonomics can help to prevent injuries.”
Each year, 1.8 million workers in the U.S. report work-related musculosketetal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and back injuries. About 600,000 of these disorders are serious enough to result in workers having to take time off work to recover. Repetitive motions, slouching and improper keyboard placement are only some of the culprits. Straining to see the monitor, cradling the phone on your shoulder and dangling your legs can also lead to a variety of injuries.
“Sitting in a good posture is really important,” said Mr. Flint. “Make sure and get a good chair that allows you to sit in a good position with your feet flat on the floor and your weight over your hips so you’re not leaning forward or back.”
Other recommendations include having a chair that supports your back’s lower lumbar region and allows your thighs to be parallel to the floor, creating a 90-degree angle with the lower legs. Arms should be relaxed at your side in a neutral position, and a footrest may be needed for shorter individuals to ensure their feet are firmly supported. Keep your wrists straight and fingers flexed as you type. Keep the monitor 16 to 24 inches from your face with the top of the monitor at or slightly below eye level. And if you talk on the phone a lot, consider getting a headset to keep your neck and arm in a neutral position.
But no matter how well your workstation is set up, it makes no difference if you don’t take frequent breaks, said Mr. Flint.
“You need to take a two-minute break every 30 minutes to get the blood flowing,” he said. “It’s crucial to move around and make sure you’re not doing the same thing over and over again.”
The Office of Health and Safety provides a list of recommended stretches for office workers on its website including head turns, chin tucks, shoulder rolls, foot rotations and a variety of wrist and back stretches. Mr. Flint recommends doing several stretches a few times a day in addition to giving your eyes multiple rest periods by looking up and away from your computer screen and focusing on a distant object more than six feet away. Give your eyes a break by also looking up, down and to the right and left every so often.
Because students are more likely to be using a laptop and moving from class to class, their ergonomic needs are slightly different than faculty and staff who may be using a desktop computer in one place.
“Laptops are a convenient tool for mobile computing, but the close configuration of the screen and keyboard pose challenges to good ergonomics,” said Mr. Flint.
He advises students not to hold their laptops in their laps. Instead, use a pillow to raise it up so that your arms are in a neutral position. If you are using the laptop on a table, be sure to raise your seat or use a pillow to place your arms and hands into the proper position.
Pain, cramping, numbness and tingling in the wrists, arms, elbows, neck, shoulders, back, hips or hamstrings are early symptoms of musculosketeal disorders. GW faculty, staff and students are encouraged to learn more about ergonomics on the Office of Health and Safety website or request an educational workshop. The office can also perform ergonomic assessments of individual workstations.
“We want to prevent injuries from happening in the first place,” said Mr. Flint.