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Ergonomics FAQs

What is ergonomics?
How important is a wrist rest on a keyboard?
How can neck and arm fatigue/strain be elimated while doing computer work?
Is keying height always 27.5 inches? What if a person is taller/shorter?
Is it better to have a mouse pad to the side of a keyboard or on the desktop?
Which chair is best for a bad back?
What do chairs with a lumbar "pump" feature offer?
What does a waterfall edge offer?
What is a tilt-lock function good for?
Which type of tilting mechanism is most important for proper typing posture?
What is pneumatic height adjustment?
What are some common chair descriptions?
How high should your chair back be for proper keying?
Are armrests helpful? How should they be used?
What seat materials are most comfortable?
What is a document holder and how should it be used?
When is a footrest needed? What is an appropriate footrest?
What is the advantage of having a rounded edge on your worksurface?
What is the advantage of having a worksurface that can be easily adjusted for either seating or standing work?
Are there any standards for adjustability ranges for office furniture and equipment?

What is ergonomics? Ergonomics comes from two Greek words - ergo (work) and nomos (the study of.) In the broadest sense, ergonomics is the study of work. The practical goal of ergonomics is to match the requirements of jobs to the physical and mental capabilities and requirements of the working population.
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How important is a wrist rest on a keyboard? Wrist rests are useful for providing a padded location to rest the base of the palm of the hand (never the wrist) when no keying is being done. A padded resting location is preferable to a hard surface or an edge of a worksurface because it distributes the pressure caused by the weight of the arm.

The hand and the wrist should not be in contact with the pad while keying because this increases the intracarpal pressure and forces the wrist into an extended posture.
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How can neck and arm fatigue/strain be eliminated while doing computer work? The body needs to be in a postural alignment that minimizes the muscle activity required to maintain body position. In the case of the arms, the upper arms should rest comfortably at the side of the torso to prevent the neck and shoulder muscle activity required to move the elbows away from the body.

The forearms should be parallel to the floor to promote circulation to the hands and wrists. The wrists should be in a neutral posture - attained when the hands are in line with the forearms - to keep the carpal tunnel as open as possible.

These arm positions are reached through proper adjustment of seat height with respect to keyboard and mouse height. For instance, if the keyboard and mouse sit on the worksurface instead of an adjustable keyboard tray, people may have to raise or lower their seat height to get the forearms parallel to the floor with upper arms at their sides. The mouse should always be at the same height and distance as the keyboard.

Neck fatigue can occur when the mass of the head is too far forward of the pivot point on the top of the spine - requiring neck, shoulder, and back muscle activity to maintain position. Preferred neck posture involves keeping the chin in and the head over the neck. Monitor height should be adjusted so that the top line of text on the display is slightly lower than eye level. Distance to the monitor should be at least 16 inches.
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Is keying height always 27.5 inches? What if the person is taller/shorter? There is no absolute height for the keyboard. Remember that there is a target position for the joints of the body to minimize required muscle activity, maximize circulation and minimize pressures within the carpal tunnel. What is important is making sure that the combination of seat height and keyboard position allows the user to achieve their target posture.
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Is it better to have a mouse pad to the side of a keyboard or on the desktop? The target postures for keyboard use and mouse use are the same. Therefore, the mouse needs to be at the same height and distance as the keyboard.
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Which chair is best for a bad back? This depends on the nature of the back problem. Most people suffer back problems in the lower back, so a chair that allows the user to sit back all the way against a lumbar support (convex) that is adjusted to fit into their lumbar curve (concave) will provide the most benefit. A chair with a seat pan that is too deep will prevent the user from sitting back against the lumbar support. A chair with adjustable lumbar support height is preferable.
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What do chairs with a lumbar "pump" feature offer? A "pump” feature may help attain proper lumbar support but can’t replace a lumbar support whose height can be properly adjusted. In a car, you can't usually adjust the height of the lumbar support, so the air bladder can compensate slightly by inflating the seat back to fit into the concave lumbar curvature.
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What does a waterfall edge offer? A waterfall edge refers to the part of the seat cushion farthest from the back. It prevents compression of the structures on the back of the thighs and at the back of the knee as long as the feet are not dangling. These body regions include both nerves and blood vessels, so their compression causes decreased circulation and nerve compression.
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What is a tilt-lock function good for? Tilting back can provide a restful position for thinking, talking on the phone, or relaxing, but is not conducive to achieving the target posture for heavy keying with the mouse or keyboard. Tilt-lock allows the angle between the seat pan and the seat back to be fixed. This provides the most support to the lumbar spine if the user is sitting back against the lumbar support, taking some of the upper body weight off the discs in the low back.
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Which type of tilting mechanism is most important for proper typing posture? To achieve the target posture for interacting with your computer through mouse or keyboard, a tilting mechanism that can lock into any position that prevents excessive pressure on the backs of the thighs while providing support for the lumbar spine is preferred.
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What is pneumatic height adjustment? Pneumatic cylinders provide the fastest and easiest means of adjusting chair height up and down (done with the touch of a button.) From a user's perspective, pneumatic height should represent the adjustment range of the seat pan (from highest position to lowest position above the floor).
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What are some common chair descriptions? Task chair or computer workstation chair - for jobs that require prolonged sitting and maximum adjustability.

Executive chair - high back chair for those who don't use their computer frequently. Typically offers swivel/tilt-only.

Industrial or assembly line chair - a chair that is higher than an office chair and includes a ring or other foot support mechanism above the base.
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How high should your chair back be for proper keying? Chair back height should be adjusted so that the convex lumbar support fits into the concavity of your lower back. This holds true for chairs with high backs (like executive chairs) or task chairs with smaller back rests.
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Are armrests helpful? How should they be used? Armrests can take some of the weight off the arms, shoulders and lower back. However, if they are too high then the forearm tissues can be compressed, causing discomfort. Adjustability for both height and width (separation) is preferred so that they can be accessed while in the target posture; you should not have to deviate from your target posture just to use armrests. Padded armrests or those made of soft urethane are preferable.
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What seat materials are most comfortable? While leather chairs are most durable, they may not be the most comfortable for prolonged seating because leather does not breathe as well as cloth fabrics.

Many people find leather aesthetically pleasing and a great cover for chairs other than those used in a heaving keying environment.
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What is a document holder and how should it be used? A document holder supports paperwork in an upright position for easier viewing compared to documents laying flat on the worksurface. The document holder should be placed at approximately the same height and distance as the monitor (usually off to one side), to assure good head, neck, and shoulder posture.
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When is a footrest needed? What is an appropriate footrest? A foot rest is needed when a person sits in a chair that is properly adjusted for torso and arm target postures, but their feet do not rest flat on the floor. The footrest takes pressure off the back of the thighs. Ideally, the footrest should have adjustable height and tilt so that the ankle can be positioned at 90 degrees from the calf.
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What is the advantage of having a rounded edge on your worksurface? A straight edge on your worksurface may cause stress concentrations in the tissues underneath your skin. This can decrease circulation or cause direct damage to underlying nerves. A rounded edge helps prevent this from happening.
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What is the advantage of having a worksurface that can be easily adjusted for either seated or standing work? The opportunity to stand for at least 5 minutes each hour when the bulk of your work requires you to sit promotes circulation in the lower extremities and causes motion of the spine to nourish the discs and alleviate disc pressures.
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Are there any standards for adjustability ranges for office furniture and equipment? The American National Standards Institute and the Human Factors Society developed a publication concerning work at computer workstations entitled "American National Standard for Human Factors Engineering of Visual Display Terminal Workstations,” ANSI/HFS Standard No. 100-1988, The Human Factors Society, 1988. This is not an OSHA enforceable standard, but rather serves as a guideline to furniture and equipment designers.

Remember, proper posture and comfort through adjustability are most important.
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