Ergonomics. It’s one of those words we hear thrown around a lot, and we know it’s important, but what does it actually mean? And why should we care?
I must admit, 5 years ago, when I first started working for Xybix, I couldn’t have given you the definition, or even explained why having something be “ergonomically correct” was important. I knew it was, “something about being healthy, or something to do with your posture.” At the time, I was a slouchy 20-something. I was young, and therefore felt that ergonomics did not apply to me. Maybe it was something my grandparents needed? I was constantly being told to stand up straight anyway, and I figured I didn’t need something else reminding me. Sound familiar?
Luckily, since starting at Xybix, I’ve been schooled in ergonomics. Of course, at first I had tons of questions—and you must, too! But don’t worry, because today, I’m here to school you! So let’s get started...
Ergonomics is defined as, “The study of people’s efficiency in the workplace.”
WHAT? There’s no mention about health or posture in that definition. Merriam Webster’s dictionary goes a little bit further:
“A science that deals with designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely; The parts or qualities of something's design that make it easy to use.”
So by definition, ergonomics is all about making your job easier. Who doesn’t want that? If I came to you and said, “Hey [insert name here], you’re doing a great job! I can make your job easier...How about it?” I bet 99% of people would say, “Heck Yes!” (I have to leave a little wiggle room in there…Maybe some people want their job to be harder!)
Now, I’m sure some of you are asking exactly HOW ergonomics can make your job easier? I’m getting to that!
The national standard for computer workstation ergonomics is called ANSI/HFES 100-2007. (Yes, it’s long and complicated!). All you need to know is that the people who wrote and approved these standards are the experts, and they have offered the following recommendations that will, indeed, make your job as a 911 dispatcher easier:
- Monitor Viewing Angles
- Monitor Orientation
- Focal Length Adjustment
- Keyboard Surface Height
- Keyboard Surface Shape
- Knee and Leg Clearances
Bored yet? Let me break it down so that you can see how these things make your job easier:
- When you are sitting or standing at your desk facing your screen, where are you looking? Proper ergonomics state that you need to be looking down at an angle of 15 to 25 percent. If you’re going home from work every night (or morning for you night-shifters), and your neck and back hurt, chances are you are looking up at your monitors. This is a big deal, even if you’re only looking up slightly! This constant strain can lead to major health issues down the road. By determining your proper viewing angle, you can alleviate the pain and hopefully work more efficiently.
- If you have multiple monitors that are all over your desk (up, down, to the side... you get my drift), chances are you’re not only craning your neck all day long, but you’re also straining your eyes! It’s hard for our eyes to adjust from screen to screen. By placing your monitors along the same arc, so they’re in one continuous line, and approximately the same distance from your face, you’ll reduce your eye strain (not to mention all the craning).
- In conjunction with recommendation #2: Have you ever noticed how sometimes you need to look closer at your monitor, or perhaps move it back, depending on the day or if you wear glasses? Do you usually hunch forward to get closer? (Ouch! Your poor neck and back!) Having the ability to move all your monitors forward and back 10 inches simultaneously will alleviate the hunching, accommodate your eyes, and keep your monitors consistent, which again, will minimize eye strain.
- Do your wrists hurt at the end of the day? Do you or anyone you know have carpal tunnel syndrome? This condition—which can develop when your wrists are constantly flexed—can make typing excruciating. It’s ideal to keep your wrists flat, or neutral, so that you can mitigate your chances of developing carpal tunnel. Being able to adjust the keyboard, independent of your monitor, is key in achieving this, as is keeping your monitors at the appropriate height.
- Everything you need all the time (pens, paper, phones, keyboards, mice, touch screens) should be kept in your primary reach zone—meaning if you extend your arms out, without leaning at all, you should be able to touch all these items. When you begin to reach, you risk repetitive motion injuries. But wouldn’t it be nice to have everything you need directly in front of you, anyway?
- If you are tall, this is a no brainer. There’s nothing worse than being on an airplane all day with no leg space. Your office space should not be the coach section of an airplane. You should be able to stretch out your legs comfortably, and not be constantly banging your knees on the desk.
So there it is. Think the six recommendations listed would make your job easier? How about more comfortable? If you’re happier and more comfortable at work, you’ll do a better job, and your employers will count on you being there to do a great job! So, to recap, the key items you need to remember for computer ergonomics (in layman’s terms):
- Look down at your screens (15 to 25 percent)
- Monitors should be in a continuous row/arc in front of you
- You should be able to move the monitors back and forth (all together now)!
- Keep your wrists flat.
- Everything you need should be in front of you. No reaching!
- You should have the leg space of 1st class, not coach.