Ergonomics has emerged as a significant area of concern for organizations as employees face the occupational hazards of sitting at a desk and working at a computer all day. Potential health problems stem from sitting poorly and for long periods of time. Proper ergonomics covers how people sit and rest their arms and hands. It also focuses on the angle at which someone views their computer monitor and the position of their feet under the desk.
With the increase in remote work and a focus on digital accessibility, organizations can look at ergonomic equipment as an opportunity to improve employee experience. Ergonomic technologies offer a more customized working experience, as employees can use what best suits their individual needs.
The following are three factors to look for when choosing ergonomic technology:
- Ease of use. Employees should be able to configure and understand their ergonomic equipment without difficulty.
- Individual adjustability. Because people vary physically, ergonomic needs of a taller man will not be the same as a shorter woman. Equipment should adjust to accommodate all users.
- Promotes employee comfort and wellness. Ergonomic equipment can increase digital accessibility to employees remotely or in office.
The following is a list of popular and useful ergonomic technology and equipment.
Standard computer desk chairs are not made to be comfortable or for sitting long periods, but rather can be made with low quality, inexpensive materials. It's clear after sitting for a while because of the stress it puts on the body. Ergonomic chairs are designed to let a person sit comfortably for long periods of time, without putting any extra pressure on your body.
Whereas a generic chair can be found for $100 or less, ergonomic chairs can run from about $350 and up, with some costing north of $1,000. These chairs usually have standard ergonomic features and more, such as heated seats.
There are several things to look for in a good ergonomic chair, including the following:
Buyers want to look for adjustability in multiple aspects in an ergonomic chair. It needs to be adjustable in height, width and depth. It should also have adjustable armrests and reclining angles. Adjustable height affects the angle at which to view the monitor, which is critical to avoid neck strain. Adjustable depth helps keep pressure off a person's thighs by moving the space between the seat cushion and the knees.
Arms should rest comfortably on the armrests and form an L shape with the typing surface to make sure the shoulders are not hunched. If the armrest is too high, the arms are pushed up, which will become uncomfortable after a while. If they're too low, the arms hang with no support.
Low back pain is a common complaint from people who sit too long in poor chairs. An ergonomic chair will likely have lumbar support in some form. It should be adjustable for height and body shape.
2. Keyboard and mouse
While ergonomic chairs are meant for most of the body, an ergonomic keyboard is helpful for the hands and wrists. Ergonomic designs are meant to place the hands in a more natural way than traditional keyboards, which allows for more comfort and less repetitive stress. They're intended for long-term keyboard users.
The most common design for ergonomic keyboards is to have a rise in the middle with a valley on either side. This allows users to turn their hands in a natural way, rather than keeping them flat.
The same applies to the mouse. The traditional design of a mouse is not a natural fit to the hand. After prolonged use, the user may find themselves with cramped fingers or a sore wrist.
A common form of ergonomic mouse is known as a vertical mouse. The mouse looks like it's turned sideways from the usual design and the user turns their hand sideways, rather than keeping it flat. This design puts less pressure on the wrist, which is one of the sore spots of repetitive injury.
Both ergonomic keyboards and mice take some getting used to. Users may need several weeks to acclimate, develop the muscle memory and become comfortable with the new design.
Whereas the traditional desk is simply a flat top, ergonomic desks have two additional levels. There is a platform that raises the monitor to a more comfortable level, as well as a pull-out tray under the center on which the keyboard resides. This allows users to lower their hands and not hunch their shoulders.
Standing desks are a more recent trend. Standing desks use a motor to raise or lower the desk to a comfortable height for the arms. Many studies have highlighted the dangers of prolonged sitting, and standing is considered to be a much healthier means of working.
However, standing desks are not without their downsides. They can be tough on the feet, especially if the flooring is hard or the user doesn't wear comfortable shoes. A thick cushioned mat is a common add-on sold with standing desks.
Monitor ergonomics are mostly confined to tilt and height adjustment. The ideal set up is to have the top of the monitor slightly below eye level, so the user is looking down at the monitor. If the monitor is too high, users must look up, which can strain the neck over time. If the monitor is too low, a bend in the next can also cause strain.
An emerging trend among monitors is curved screens. Rather than the traditional flat screen design, the screens are curved toward the user at the vertical edges. Because humans' natural field of view has a slight curve, curved monitors more naturally reflect how people see and can reduce eyestrain.
A 2016 study by Harvard Medical School found that test subjects who used a curved monitor reported less eye strain, difficulty focusing or blurred vision than those who used a traditional flat monitor.
An adjustable footrest takes the pressure off the lower legs and back. This includes the sciatic nerve, which runs down the back of the leg and can become inflamed from poor posture. The footrest raises the feet up slightly so that they are not overly stretched to rest on the ground. If the legs stretch too far when seated, the muscles can be overstretched. It might not be noticeable until the person stands and finds that their legs ache.
With an ergonomic footrest, the legs are no longer hyperextended beyond the comfortable limit. The muscles are relaxed and not stretched.
Future of ergonomic tech
Ergonomics continues to move forward in several ways. A general medical diagnostic procedure called electromyography (EMG) evaluates the health condition of muscles and their accompanying nerve cells to diagnose muscle disorders, nerve disorders and other neuromuscular disorders.
Normally a diagnostic tool for a doctor's office, EMG can also be used to test the efficacy of ergonomic equipment. For example, because EMG tests if muscles and nerves are stressed or relaxed, it can evaluate how comfortable a chair is or how little stress a mouse places on the person's hand.
Increasingly, ergonomics is moving toward designing more flexible solutions that adapt to suit everyone, regardless of gender, size or body type. For example, newer adjustable chairs will read a person's weight and posture and adjust accordingly without manual corrections.