Common Office Items Can Cause Health Problems
Although office equipment and technology, like computers and desk chairs, are essential to the workplace, incorrect usage may have unexpected health implications. Repetitive motions at your desk can number in the thousands in a single workday. Meanwhile, the rest of your body maintains a static position sometimes for hours on end. Often we don’t think of the potential hazards right in front of us. Take a look at the list below to see how you can avoid these office health hazards.
Keyboard and Mouse
After hours of typing-away on a keyboard, your body begins to feel the effects. Typing is a skill that requires a certain position in order to avoid ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries.
How to Avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
1. Exercise Your Hands
It may sound unimportant, but all that pecking away at the keyboard can cause discomfort on your hands and wrists. Practice a few hand exercises and stretches to prevent discomfort and further issues – a great way to exercise the hands is by clenching your fist for several seconds, releasing, and then repeating.
2. Use Good Posture
Improving your posture is a simple and effective way to prevent the development of carpel tunnel syndrome. Although it may feel awkward at first, always sit with your feet flat on the ground, back straight, shoulders relaxed, and with your neck straightened.
3. Invest in the Right Computer Equipment & Ensure Proper Positioning
Generally, the wrists should be bent up only slightly (about 20 degrees), and turned out slightly in the pinky direction about 10 degrees. According to the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (a division of the US Department of Labor) you should position your keyboard so that it’s at the same height (or slightly below) your elbows, which should hang comfortably by your side. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your wrists should not bend too far up, down, or move to the side when typing.
Split or ergonomic keyboards (keys turned outward slightly) are usually necessary only if you have a large frame and/or large chest. The ergonomic keyboard compensates for your arms being so far apart from each other (which can stress the wrist in a normal keyboard.) If you choose to try an ergonomic keyboard, expect 6 to 8 weeks of mistyping while you get used to keys in different places.
The mouse has become a primary tool for many of us. Some tracking devices that use small muscle groups very repetitively may increase your chances of tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. The most important consideration is the ability for your hand to comfortably fit around the interface, whatever type it is. As a rule, keep the mouse as close to your body as the keyboard. Long or awkward reaches cause shoulder pain and contact stress at the elbow.
We spend most of our time sitting on things: beds, chairs, couches, car seats, etc. For those whose jobs require desk work, spending several hours each day sitting in an uncomfortable office chair can take its toll on your body, especially the back. There’s a correlation between sitting for long hours and obesity – something that may be more applicable to laziness than desk work, but large periods of inactivity are detrimental to the health, regardless. To avoid these implications, try one of the following 3 tips:
1. Stretch. Stretching can increase blood flow in areas of the body that aren’t normally used while at the desk. Try stretching your legs and arms to avoid cramping and discomfort.
2. Stand. It’s okay to stand and work; some people have even found that they think more clearly and are more productive when they stand. Try switching between standing and sitting throughout the day to decrease the likelihood of back pain.
3. Invest In an Ergonomic Chair. If standing isn’t for you, perhaps an ergonomic or custom-designed chair would be a good alternative. An ergonomic chair is one that fits in with your office environment and body in a manner that maximizes productivity. Although they can be pricey, custom or ergonomic chairs can be comfortable and conducive to working. An ergonomic chair can often be judged by how many adjustments it has. More adjustable often equates to more customizable.
In our technology-driven society, we spend much of our time with our eyes glued to computer, television, cellphone, and tablet screens. Technology has its advantages, of course, but (like everything) there are some negative consequences to these gadgets. Particularly, for those whose jobs require interaction with computers, the glare of the computer screen can put a strain on the eyes, known as computer vision syndrome. To avoid eye irritation, consider some of these steps:
1. Take a Break. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that workers who took several mini-breaks had less eye-strain without losing productivity. So stand up, walk around, and give your eyes a 5 minute break several times a day. The AOA suggests following a 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.
2. Monitor Height. If you draw a straight horizontal line from your eyes to your monitor screen, you eye-line should hit 3 inches below the top of your viewing area. Most people underestimate where ideal viewing is. This explains why prolonged laptop use (eyes “looking” too close to where hands are “typing”) causes neck or upper extremity discomfort over time. The laptop problem can easily be solved with a USB external keyboard or external monitor.
3. Dual Monitors. Many people use 2 or even 3 monitors at the office. To avoid neck strain, choose one screen as your “primary monitor” and place it directly in front of you. Our natural tendency is to put the “seam” dead center. This means that either screen causes a little bit of neck discomfort. By committing to one primary screen, you decrease the overall postural stress even when you turn further when you look at the secondary monitor.
4. Increase the Text Size. We sometimes mistakenly call this “Font” size. Font size does not equate to character height on the screen. In order to increase the amount of information you can put on the screen, the default setting for your screen is typically much lower than what you eyes are comfortable with (called the Resting Point). As the distance from the screen increases, the character height that feels comfortable must increase.
5. One Dollar Bill Test.To assess your screen resolution or screen distance, use the “one dollar bill” test. At specific distances, the characters on your monitor should be the same height as certain letters on a dollar bill. Identify your optimal character height by positioning your head so that the following letters on the dollar match the height of the characters on your monitor:
- 32 inches away: “United States of America” (green side of the bill)
- 27 inches away: “ONE DOLLAR”
- 13 – 20 inches away: “In God We Trust”
Once you know the distance from your eyes to the screen, make sure the characters on your screen are the same height as the corresponding part of the dollar bill.
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), if you’re having trouble reading text on your screen, don’t bring the screen closer to your eyes; instead, increase the character size so your device can be viewed at a distance that is more comfortable for your eyes.
For some office workers, the desk is where it all goes down: it’s a dining table, head rest, and an actual work station. But when the desk is used for this variety of purposes, it becomes a host for bacteria that can cause illness. Here are some ways to avoid unwanted exposure to germs while at your desk:
- Eat Somewhere Else. Avoid eating all of your meals at your desk – it’s okay to snack, just don’t make a habit of using it as a dining table. Also, it’s more likely for you to overindulge when you’re working and eating at the same time because you’re not focusing entirely on how much is being consumed.
- Use Anti-Bacterial Wipes. Every now and then, try wiping down your desk with anti-bacterial wipes to keep it from becoming a breeding ground for germs. It could mean the difference between sickness and good health.
- Wash Your Hands. It may sound obvious, but the high-stress and quick pace of the office environment can force you to skip out on important actions like hand washing. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer at your desk for good measure, but remember that nothing beats hot water and soap!
With these helpful tips, you can avoid the wrath of office health hazards and be the most productive person in the office.
This article was reviewed and approved by Dan Mills, Physical Therapist.