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The Relationship Between the Worker and the Workplace

The word ergonomics is heard more frequently now than ever before. Most of us think of it in terms of the workplace. What we don't realize is that the workplace is wherever we are, what ever we're doing — whether we are at work doing our job, at home doing chores, or performing some sport of recreation. How well do we fit into our workplace? Or better yet, how well does our workplace fit us? Do we have to reach over head, perform the same or similar motions over and over again? Do we bend, twist, stoop? Are we handling bulky, awkward or heavy items? Are we moving things from one place to another? Are we in an administrative setting or an industrial setting? Indoors or outdoors? Sitting, standing, walking, or driving? All these things have to do with ergonomics. In 1990, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began evaluating reports of ergonomic illnesses and injuries in the workplace. There are several different terms for ergonomic illnesses and injuries, such as "repetitive trauma"," repeat stress syndrome"," cumulative trauma disorders" and "repetitive trauma disorders". The terms may refer to problems with the hands, arms, shoulders, neck, back, legs or feet. They all refer to ergonomic illnesses or injuries. It has been found that these illnesses and injuries are the most expensive in dollars, lost time from work, disability and suffering, when compared with all other workplace illnesses and injuries. They don't usually have one immediate cause, but instead build up over time as motions are repeated over and over again. And they build up twenty four hours a day. It has also been found that something can be done about these illnesses and injuries when workers and management work together to solve the issues that create these ergonomic problems.


A poorly-designed workstation can not only slow you down, but also increase your stress. Fortunately, many office workstations are built from standard components which can be rearranged easily. If your workstation doesn’t fit you, organize it so you can keep twists, turns and uncomfortable movements to an absolute minimum. Be sure that you have enough desk space to comfortably accommodate the materials and equipment that are part of your job such as books, papers, calculators and computers. Keep your work area clean and organize to avoid the stress that clutter can create. If your space is limited, decide what you will need to have immediately available and what can be stored until it is needed. Keep the items you most frequently use closer to you. If you share a workstation, use adjustable equipment to make your work easier and more comfortable.


If you spent a large part of your day at a computer, good keyboard placement can be important to your mental and physical comfort. Make sure your keyboard is centered directly in front of you so you don’t have to turn or stretch to get to it. Place the keyboard so your hands are no more than ten degrees from a horizontal position and your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle. Productivity can be cut by as much as 50 percent if your elbows are bent at a lesser or greater angle. Elevate the keyboard about two inches at the rear to put your wrists in a “neutral” or natural resting position. Use commercially-available wrist rests to provide ergonomic wrist support.


If you spend most of your time in front of a monitor, the way you use it can have an enormous impact on your health – both physical and emotional. If you use the wrong monitor or if you position it improperly, you may suffer headaches, eyestrain, back problems or worse. To prevent these problems, choose the right monitor for your work, and use it properly. Place the monitor directly in front of you to avoid twisting your back. Make sure it is 18 to 24 inches away from your eyes. The top of your monitor should be at eye level to avoid fatigue, stress, neck problems and backaches from looking down. If characters on your screen are blurry and hard to read, clean the screen. If that doesn’t work, let your supervisor know. Eyeglass wearers should keep the screen a little lower than eye level. When working on a document, place it beside your monitor at the same height – to avoid stressful repetitive turning of the head.

Office Chairs

Sitting is twice as hard on your back as standing, so it is important to choose and adjust your chair carefully. If your workstation has thick carpeting, use a plastic or linoleum pad to support your chair. Broken or poorly maintained chairs can add to stress. Even if you think you have “gotten used to” such problems as balky wheels, loose supports or lumpy cushions, your body is still reacting with fatigue, stress and back problems. Pretend you’re sitting in your chair for the first time, and assess the problems. If they can’t be fixed, find another chair. Try to get a chair that adjusts to you. Your chair should have five legs, a rounded seat and a firm padded back to provide support for your lower back. Adjust the chair height so that when seated with your feet flat on the floor, your knees are as high as your hips and your work surface is slightly above your waist. The backrest should fit comfortably at your lower back to prevent strain and fatigue to your shoulders and back.


Whatever type of desk you use, it should suit your work and be easily accessible. A desk that is too large can force you to strain your back as you reach across it, while a desk that is too small can make you feel cluttered and cramped. Make sure there is room not only for your keyboard and monitor, but also for other papers and items you use often, such as a telephone, reference materials and a calendar. If your desk is too high, compensate with an adjustable chair, but remember the principles of good chair height. Use a foot rest to insure your feet are flat on the ground. If your desk is too low, raise it with small wooden blocks. Don’t forget to keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Keep adequate leg room of three to six inches from the top of your thigh to the desk surface. Don’t store items under desk.

Lighting and Glare

Glare and intense lighting are not always easy to eliminate, and can cause eyestrain and headaches. Lower lighting reduces glare and is the best kind of lighting for computer intensive workplaces. Desk lamps and task lights can be very helpful. Position your screen perpendicular to nearby windows to avoid direct glare. Solve indirect glare by identifying the source causing the reflection and moving or eliminating it. Move your monitor to another location or try an anti-glare screen if all else fails.


Short breaks are not only good for you but can actually increase productivity. Breaks may consist of varying work routines or simply getting away from your work for a few minutes. If your job requires you to keep working at all times, try mixing your duties throughout the day so that you are able to get away from your desk and computer from time to time.


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