Workplace Ergonomics

Ergonomics (derived from the Greek words: "ergon", meaning work and "nomoi", meaning natural laws) is something that is important to any type of work, but especially to those who use computers. So many people are using a computer at a desk for long periods of time each day that it is having adverse effects on their health. Eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and back problems are all things that can be avoided if a workstation is set up carefully. OSHA has extensive recommendations for how to set up a healthy work environment. They also have a Computer Workstation Checklist. Also available as a printable PDF document, for evaluating every, and we do mean every, aspect of a workstation.

What about having students use this checklist to evaluate the use of computers in your school? Or students could do a study of workplace injuries related to ergonomics.

OSHA suggests that it is important to understand the concept of neutral body positioning. The following is a list of considerations for maintaining a neutral body position, as explained on their website:

  • Hands, wrists, and forearms are straight, in-line and roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Head is level, or bent slightly forward, forward facing, and balanced. Generally it is in-line with the torso.
  • Shoulders are relaxed and upper arms hang normally at the side of the body.
  • Elbows stay in close to the body and are bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
  • Feet are fully supported by floor or footrest.
  • Back is fully supported with appropriate lumbar support when sitting vertical or leaning back slightly.
  • Thighs and hips are supported by a well-padded seat and generally parallel to the floor.
  • Knees are about the same height as the hips with the feet slightly forward.

Regardless of how good your working posture is, working in the same position or sitting still for prolonged periods is not healthful. You should change your working position frequently throughout the day in the following ways:

  • Make small adjustments to your chair or backrest.
  • Stretch your fingers, hands, arms, and torso.
  • Stand up and walk around for a few minutes periodically

Students today should be made aware of these issues. While the various technologies they use will change, the way that their physical bodies react to repetitive motion and posture is something that will not change.

Many of the topics in this series are not necessarily things that will change the curriculum. Students will learn these things while using technology to meet other curricular goals, but teachers need to be explicit about their importance.

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