Did you know your office can be hazardous to your health? While sitting at a desk staring at a computer for eight hours straight may not be as dangerous as, say, cleaning up toxic waste, a poorly designed office space can still leave you hurting at the end of the day. And, in addition to the pain, computer-related injuries can seriously decrease your productivity at a critical time in the development of your business. We asked Chris Grant, whose F-1 Ergonomics in Ann Arbor, Michigan, provides ergonomics consulting to businesses, about the four most common office-related injuries, their causes and what you can do to prevent them.
Eye, eye: Eyestrain symptoms include burning, tightness, sharp pains, watering, blurring, headaches and even double vision. There are many causes, including the flickering of old or dying CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitors and older, single-tube fluorescent lights, as well as reflected glare from computer screens. But most eyestrain comes from focusing closely on CRT screens or printed materials for long periods of time. To give your eyes a rest, Grant suggests following the "20/20 rule"--every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Pain in the neck: "The muscles in your upper back and neck can handle looking down for long periods of time, but eventually, your muscles have to work harder and harder to hold your head up," Grant says. "[At some point], just looking straight ahead from a seated position can cause neck pain." If you're having neck pain, try lowering your monitor; you should be looking slightly downward.
Talk back: Contrary to what ergonomic chair makers say, Grant contends, it's not where you sit but for how long that causes back pain. "Sitting puts your hips at a right angle, which can stretch muscles and ligaments in the back." According to Grant, preventing back pain doesn't require a fancy exercise regimen. Simply get up and move around frequently. One tip: Put your phone across the room so you'll have to get up to answer it.
Wristy business: Painful, tingling, numb or cold hands could be warning signs of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which occurs when swollen tissue in the wrist pinches nerves. In an office setting, CTS is usually caused by too much typing, mousing or handwriting without a break, but Grant warns nerves can also become inflamed by habitually resting your wrist on something hard or sharp--even the edge of a foam mouse pad. The key to CTS prevention is awareness: Take frequent breaks, and consult with a health professional if you show any CTS symptoms, Grant advises. Ergonomic mice and keyboards that encourage natural typing and clicking positions can also help.
"[Ergonomics is] really just common sense," Grant says. "Be attuned to your body and its muscles, catch pain early and figure out why it's happening, and you'll stay healthy both in and out of the office."
Software: Oosie Micropause from FranzO Software is a Windows 95/98-compatible package that observes how long you've been typing and interrupts every so often to remind you to take an exercise break, which Oosie demonstrates in a small video window (at left). Download it from http://www.franzo.co.nz. Street price: $25 per computer
Keyboard: The SK-6000 Magic Touch keyboard from Silitek is designed to keep your wrists straight and level as you type. Fitted with a padded wrist-rest, the SK-6000 can be adjusted to suit nearly any typing angle. Buy it online at http://www.silitek.com/sk-6000.htm. Street price: $59.95
Monitor: The Monitor Height Riser from Office Organix is a low-cost, simple way to adjust the height of your monitor. Durable plastic columns provide five different height adjustment levels for monitors that weigh up to 60 pounds. Purchase the Monitor Height Riser (#91717) online from http://www.officeorganix.com Street price: $28.95
Monitor glare screen: The Universal Anti-Glare/Radiation shield from Safe Computing is an optically coated glass filter that mounts over a 12- to 15-inch monitor screen and protects eyes from glare, screen flicker and electromagnetic field emissions. Get it online at http://www.safecomputing.com. Street price: $48