Your average office worker may not be engaged with live electrical cables, heights or combustible materials but that belies the dangerous nature of the work.
A desk and chair are not as benign as they appear. Care must be taken to set up your workstation ergonomically, that is, in the way best suited for your body to carry out the required tasks – otherwise you are at risk of developing strain injuries that can be hard to recover from.
The first rule about office work is that sitting all day is detrimental to your back and overall health. The more you can change postures throughout the day the better. Sit, stand, walk. Do whatever you can to incorporate movement into your day. Even though your brain is going a million miles an hour on reports and emails, your legs and torso are in the sleep zone. At the bare minimum, set a timer for every twenty minutes to stand up and stretch on the spot to keep your body vital.
Your chair can make all the difference in your working environment. For healthy bodies, the seat pan should be level. A downward slope requires resistance to prevent sliding which is a strain risk over time, and uncomfortable. The seat pan should also support the weight of your thighs without being too narrow or too long.
The back of the seat does not need to be perfectly straight, and nor should it push you forward towards the floor. A gentle backward tilt to allow your back to relax into it should be sufficient. There is no hard and fast rule about whether a chair should be a full back or just support behind the shoulder blades. However, if you have posture issues then a lumbar support may help you. Considering every inch you hunch over is equivalent to adding an extra 4.5 kilograms of weight to your spine do take care of your seated posture.
Strain in the back muscles or a muscle spasm can be caused by leaning and over reaching. Consider the layout of the materials you work with. Is the equipment that you use 80 per cent of the time where your hands are? If you need to stretch out your arms more than a little bit to use your keyboard, mouse, phone or notepad, then they are too far away. Move them closer and move the things you don’t need away from you. See the diagram below from the University of Queensland for the best practice in desk layout.
The advice above is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of office ergonomics. Officewise is a user-friendly resource from WorkSafe Victoria that will help you navigate workstation setup to proactively prevent back pain from occurring. However, if you or colleagues are experiencing pain, we recommend engaging a professional to undertake a workstation exam.