Guidelines for Workstation Assessments
Check all adjustments the seat has and make sure you understand what each does and demonstrate to the user. This should include seat height, backrest height, and backrest angle. Other options might include free-float adjustment, seat pan angle adjustment, armrest adjustment, seat pan length adjustment. Move the chair away from the desk and get the user as comfortable as possible with their feet on the floor. There should be at least 2-3 fingers space between the back of the knees and the front of the seat pan. The chair should be in a good state of repair and stable. Check the castors are appropriate for the floor surface – hard for carpets and rubber and/or braked for hard surfaces.
Move the user to the desk and adjust the height so that they have their elbows at around desk height. If their feet come off the ground they will need an appropriate footrest. Fixed armrests can often get in the way and not allow the user to get close enough to the desk – these can usually be removed.
The desk should have sufficient space to accommodate the keyboard, mouse and screen and related equipment. It should have a matt finish to reduce reflective glare. Ideally the desk should have a thin profile and not have large beams underneath the front edge that can prevent the user sitting high enough. Ideally the front edge should be curved to prevent corners digging into the forearm.
Standard desk height is around 72cm. Some desks have set-up adjustment so the height can be altered by changing the length of the legs. A sit-stand desk has full height adjustment with an electric motor or crank.
There should be sufficient leg space under the desk to allow the user to stretch their legs out.
Make sure the user is aware of the tilt option on the keyboard. General rule is flat for touch typists and tilted for non touch typists. Observe them typing and check wrist position and force used to hit keys. A wrist rest may be appropriate if they are resting their wrists on the desk and cocking the wrist. There should be sufficient space in front of the keyboard to rest the wrists when not typing.
Keyboard position is often overlooked. The elbows should hang by the sides of the body and the keyboard positioned to accommodate this, not the other way around. Any reaching forward will cause the shoulders eventually to hunch forward and then the spine tends to buckle, leading to a slumped posture. The mouse should be positioned adjacent to the keyboard to ensure that the use does not reach continually out to the side. If doing continuous mouse work move the keyboard to the left (for a right handed person) and move the mouse into easy reach position (with elbow by the side).
Advise learning to touch type when appropriate. Alternative keyboards are available such as split/ergonomics keyboards for touch typists, mini keyboards without number pad to reduce shoulder abduction when using the mouse. The keyboard should have a matt surface to avoid reflective glare and there should be sufficient contrast between the symbols and the keys so that they are easily legible.
Mouse related problems can be helped by moving the mouse to the opposite hand. Alternative pointing devices are available including tracker balls, stylus, vertical mouse and joys sticks. Ideally these should be trialled before purchase.
The screen should be positioned so that the user is sitting straight in front of it and the keyboard. If two monitors then they should have the primary screen in front of them. The top of the screen should be at around eye level, but if the user is not a touch typist, it can be 5-10 cm lower to reduce the amount of nodding between screen and keyboard. The screen should be 50-70 cm from the eyes or more simply ‘arms length’. The above may change if the user has vari-focal or bi-focal glasses in which case adjust for their specific use or consider single focus glasses for computer use. The screen should be able to be tilted and swivel easily.
Check screen is clean and cleaning materials are available. Check contrast and brightness are adjusted correctly and that the user knows how to check the controls. Check text size is suitable for the programmes they use and ease of use of software including short cut keys. Check for any glare from reflections or from direct light behind the screen.
If paperwork is undertaken independently from the computer, a separate area of the desk should be used where appropriate. Angle up reading materials and encourage changes of posture e.g. moving to a soft furnishing area if appropriate. Writing slopes can be beneficial for reading and writing tasks. When referring to paperwork whilst at the computer, use an appropriate document holder to the side or between the keyboard and screen.
Check on telephone usage and if the computer is used whilst on the phone. Having the phone on the non-dominant side can reduce the likelihood of the user holding the phone between their neck and shoulder. For phone intensive tasks such as recruitment where databases are used whilst talking on the phone, a headset is recommended. Headsets can also be useful for mobile phones if they are used frequently.
Check other tasks that the user undertakes such as filing, intercom phone, scanning, and meetings to see that equipment is appropriately positioned.
Direct or reflected glare should be avoided by using up lighters or lights with louvers. Workstations should be situated so they are perpendicular to windows and blinds should be available for windows where they cause glare problems. Task lights may be necessary can be used for paperwork tasks.
Check for distracting noise from printers or other equipment. This can be reduced by relocating the equipment or adding sound proofing or screens. Check on temperature and drafts, which can occur with air-conditioning. Humidity levels can also be assessed with appropriate equipment. Breaks, task rotation, hours, lunch break, flexitime?
Check when user last had an eye test and advise them accordingly, especially if suffering from tired eyes and headaches.
Check on regularity of breaks. Users should be encouraged to take breaks little and often including looking away from the screen to rest the eye muscles. Discourage eating lunch at the desk. Software solutions are available to encourage regular breaks and include exercises such as www.workpace.com or www.rsiguard.com both offer free trial downloads. With flexitime there is a tendency to miss breaks to finish earlier, which can lead to insufficient recovery time.
Most accessories are available from normal office supplies companies. There are specialist shops such as The Back Shop, The Back Store and Back in Action where you can view and try the equipment. Other specialist companies are the Osmond Group www.osteopathy.co.uk.
The Posturite group also have similar products and services www.posturite.co.uk.
Osteopath Tofben Hersborg is importing sit-and-stand workstations at discount prices
Books and Publications for VDU Regulations
HSE Publications www.hsebooks.com
Working with VDUs ISBN 0717615049 Free single copies from HSE VDUs an Easy Guide to the Regulations ISBN 0717607356 HSE Books £8.50
Display Screen Equipment Work – Guidance on Regulations ISBN 0 7176 04101 £8.95 HSE Books
Produced By David Annett, Registered Osteopath & Ergonomist www.ergotherapy.co.uk June 2008 Workstation