If you’re an administrator at a school district or community college, you probably have a lot on your mind. Between your workload and the uncertainty posed by the ongoing pandemic, it’s understandable if you haven’t devoted much attention to the way you and your staff work. However, if you want to ensure that your office space and work practices empower you to perform your duties safely and productively, it’s essential to think about office ergonomics.
Ergonomics is about more than having good posture. It’s the science of fitting you to your workspace to maximize efficiency while preventing physical strain and stress-related injuries. Prioritizing ergonomics means that you should rethink everything from the way you sit at your desk to how you use your devices.
Don’t neglect the basics
Ergonomics might sound simple in theory, but it takes care and attention to practice. Something as simple as slouching in your chair or crossing your feet can cut off the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body, causing pain in areas like your neck, shoulders, wrists, hands, and back. Such preventable injuries can make it difficult for you to do your job – you probably won’t be eager to assemble a report or present at a meeting if your back and wrists are on fire.
Ergonomic furniture and equipment are a good start, but ultimately, effective ergonomics all comes down to developing healthy behaviors. Consistently following the basics, such as practicing a neutral posture and staying active, can keep you healthy while enabling you to complete your work effectively.
Rework your space
Setting up your office furniture and work equipment correctly is critical to maximizing safety and efficiency in your workspace. Leave no stone unturned; from your chair to your desk to your devices, every aspect of your office should be conducive to good ergonomics.
While the following tips focus on staff who work in an office setting, understand that ergonomic principles can be practiced by employees doing any type of work for your organization. Any employee should maintain good posture, sit or stand properly, and use their work tools without straining.
Whether you’re using a desktop computer, laptop, or a smart device, you should use your tech safely and ergonomically. You should never have to crane your neck or bend your upper back as you’re looking at your screen; keep track of your posture and ensure that you remain in an upright position wherever possible.
Technology makes it easy to develop bad posture habits, so keep this advice in mind for each device you might use:
- Mobile devices: Hold your phone or tablet in front of you so you don’t have to bend down to see the screen. If that’s not possible, try to look down at your screen with your eyes without tilting your head and your neck too much. If you must lean down, try not to stay in that position for long.
- Laptops: The screen should be directly in front of you and as close to eye level as possible. Aim to keep your laptop on a level surface like a desk or table so it can be stable. You should consider using a separate keyboard or mouse to avoid straining your wrists when using your laptop for long periods of time.
- Desktops: As with a laptop, your desktop computer’s monitor should be about eye level. When you’re using your keyboard, keep your wrists flat and your elbows at a roughly 90-degree angle. Avoid bending your wrist as you use your mouse; instead, propel it through your shoulder and keep your wrist level with the desk. Keep the mouse within easy reach right beside your keyboard.
You might not think about your chair all that often, but it can have a big impact on your health. Even the little things like adjusting its height can make a major difference:
- Your office chair should be raised just high enough to allow you to plant your feet comfortably yet firmly on the ground, while keeping your knees bent at a roughly 90-degree angle. A footrest might be useful if your feet have trouble reaching the floor.
- Your chair’s backrest should support the natural curvature of your spine.
- When seated, your arms should be parallel to your sides and your elbows should rest at a natural 90-degree angle.
- Your hands and forearms should be aligned with each other in a straight line.
Like your chair, your desk might seem like an innocuous piece of furniture, but it can play a substantial part in your occupational health. Set it up to maximize efficiency and safety:
- Give your body room to breathe – your legs shouldn’t be cramped underneath the desk.
- Ensure that all your frequently used items are within easy reach. Even something as simple as stretching a little too far to use your mouse can put strain on your elbow and shoulder.
- Consider getting a standing desk if you’re concerned about spending too much time sitting down. However, remember that this comes with unique considerations of its own. Without the back of a chair to support your spine, it might be easy for you to start slouching or leaning on surfaces below you. Don’t be afraid to adjust your posture or sit back down if you catch yourself in these behaviors.
Refresh your mind, body, and productivity with regular breaks
Educators are always on the go. Hectic schedules or company culture might make it difficult to take even a few minutes away from work. However, if you’re in a position to do so, you should try to take regular breaks throughout the day. Periodically stepping away from your desk is not only beneficial for your own wellbeing, but it can also set an example of healthy work practices throughout your organization.
You might assume that taking your eyes off your computer or stepping away from your desk would make you less productive, but in fact, the opposite is true. Taking microbreaks (5-10 minutes) or even micropauses (5-10 seconds) can reduce stress buildup in your tendons and tissues, prevent fatigue, refresh your focus, increase blood flow, and allow you to correct your posture. These brief respites are also a great time to do simple exercises like wrist rotations and forearm self-massages.
You can set up timers, alarm clocks, or apps to remind you when you should take a break. While your break schedule should comply with your employer’s policies, you should generally avoid sitting in a sedentary position for more than an hour at a time. Even a few seconds of movement can prevent muscle injuries from occurring and give you a renewed focus on the tasks at hand.
Make office ergonomics an initiative
Take advantage of easy-to-use resources to be proactive about ergonomics in your organization. This ergonomics checklist from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention can help you know what to look for when setting up your workstation, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website also provides other helpful materials and information.
As always, you can count on the TASB Risk Management Fund to help you develop a safer work environment. Reach out to your risk solutions consultant for everything from virtual ergonomic evaluations to personal guidance and expertise.