You're free from the confines of the cubicle farm. You work at home or in a small office. Lunch is when you're hungry. A break is a stroll around the block. However, there are the drawbacks like working hunched over the dining room table, sitting for hours on end in a chair from the '70s, and that overhead lighting may be great for dinner parties, but it's not exactly helping you finalize that proposal.
In fact, you may be part of the 30 percent of all computer users who suffer from some form of work-related discomfort. Preventing injuries associated with excessive computer use, such as cumulative trauma disorders, is even more essential for those who work from home or in small offices without the proper tools.
Tom Albin, a professional ergonomist with 3M, provides the following simple tips to help ensure home and small office workers reduce their risk of strains and pains.
Proper posture is essential to healthy computer use. Poor posture has been shown to increase fatigue levels and place unneeded strain on the back. Invest in a chair that adjusts to your height and provides adequate lumbar support. Place your feet on the floor or on a footrest, such as the 3M Adjustable Footrest, which will increase comfort by relieving stress on the legs, back and neck. If your job requires a lot of phone use, avoid cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder. Try using a speakerphone or headset to better prevent neck and shoulder strain.
Break it Up
Ergonomists have a saying, "The best posture is the next posture." Be sure to take breaks during the day to keep moving. Sitting or typing for a long period is not only uncomfortable, but increases the risk of serious health problems down the road. Use a sit-stand work surface, like the 3M Adjustable Keyboard Tray, to change your position while keying. Or just standing up, stretching or taking a walk will provide the rest that your hands and body need. You'll feel more comfortable and energized throughout a long day when you do.
Make sure your computer is arranged correctly on the desk. Counter to common perception, computer monitors should be situated just below eye-level. This will help reduce backward head and neck tilt and straining associated with an incorrectly positioned monitor. Be careful not to place the monitor too low, which will also place pressure on the neck muscles. If you're working on a kitchen table or low desk, you may need to place your monitor on a monitor stand to raise it to the proper height. In addition to raising your monitor to the proper height, 3M's monitor stand even allows you to store papers and documents within it to help keep your desk clear of clutter.
Also vital is positioning the monitor at the proper viewing distance. The standard rule of thumb is that the monitor should be at least 20 inches (approximately arm's length) from you. Make sure you can clearly see the characters on your monitor. You may need to adjust your monitor brightness and contrast settings to display characters clearly.
Keep it in Neutral
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64 percent of all workplace illnesses are disorders associated with repeated trauma, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatment and surgery for carpal tunnel is painful, expensive and not always successful, so being aware of the risk is crucial. The key to healthy wrists is keeping them in a neutral position while typing or using a mouse. To see if your wrists are in neutral, check and make sure that your forearms, wrists and hands are in a straight line while you're typing. If not, use a wrist rest to support your wrists and help keep them straight.
3M conducted a study to determine the effects of wrist rest use and found that it helps reduce the stress on the wrists, hands and the carpal tunnel by keeping them closer to neutral. When choosing a wrist rest, look for one that is neither to hard, which will actually place unneeded pressure on the wrist, or too soft, which will inhibit the wrist's movement. Try 3M's gel-filled wrist rest, which incorporates a specially developed gel to most accurately conform to the user's wrists and palms.
Be a Visionary
Working on a computer all day can quickly take a toll on your eyes. Check the lighting in your home or office to reduce glare on your computer screen and prevent vision problems. Use window coverings to diminish outside light and try turning off some of the overhead lights. Try using an anti-glare computer filter, like the 3M Circular Polarizing Filter, which allows for a clear, sharp image that is easy to read and kind to the eyes.
Position reference documents at the same height and distance as your computer monitor by using a 3M document holder that securely attaches to the side of the monitor. This will eliminate the need for your eyes to refocus each time you glance between the monitor and the reference paper, reducing eye -- and neck -- strain.
For more information on how to stay healthy at work, or additional ergonomics tips and guidelines, visit 3M Office Ergonomics at www.3M.com/ergonomics and click on the Self-Help site, or call 3M at (800)332-7483.