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Designing A Home Office: Ergonomics PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 22 July 2007

Do you work from home? Do you have children that are studying? Or are you just using the computer for the family’s administration? Today, the home office has become an essential part in a family’s daily living activities.

ErgomaxUnfortunately little is known about the various health effects of extensive computer usage whether at home or in the office. Most families are unaware about the health risks that can occur from extensive computer usage. Frequent complaints from computer usage are; lower back pain, stiff neck and shoulder pain, headache and pins and needles in the hands and fingers. However, most people do not realise that these symptoms are related to computer usage and simply place the source of discomfort to some sort of other physical activities.

So, if you recognise one of the abovementioned symptoms either in yourself or in one of your family members, then ask yourself how much time you or the particular family member actually spends behind the computer on an average day. Include the time at school and/ or at work as well. If it adds up to more than two hours a day, the risk of developing a disorder related to extensive computer usage becomes quite significant. To illustrate the problem, South African has legislation (Circular 180), which involves the compensation of Work-Related Upper Limb Disorders.

In order to prevent these sort of injuries, it is essential that the time spent behind a computer is to be limited to a maximum of 4 hours a day. Reviewing your ‘home office set up’ will aid in preventing perceived discomfort and awkward postures that may lead to injuries. Below are some practical tips that can aid you in improving your home office.

1.  A suitable chair is the essential basis of an ergonomically sound office set up. Check your chair’s height adjustment. This will make the chair usable for every family member. A correct height is achieved when the knees are bent between a 90-100 degree angle, as can be seen in the picture. The rule of thumb here is to sit with your knees slightly lower than your hips. A cushion can be used for small children. A box can be used as a footrest, if your children’s feet do not reach the floor.

2. A backrest with a height adjustment is essential for proper back support. A good support of the back can prevent lower back discomfort, such as stiff and painful muscles and further aid in preventing the likelihood of a herniated disc. Again the height adjustment is essential in order to make the chair suitable for every family member, as they all have different back sizes. A correct posture will be achieved when the lumbar support fits snugly in to the hollow part of one’s lower back while sitting. Teach your children that they need to change their chair adjustments before commencing computer usage.

3. A correct height of the monitor can prevent a lot stiff neck-shoulder muscles and headaches. A correct monitor height can be established when the top of your eyebrow is at the same height as the top of your monitor. Old books can be used to increase the screen height.

 When the Monitor is positioned too close by or too far away from the user, the eyes become strained which may lead to headaches and eye irritation. The rule of thumb for monitor distance is to position your monitor at least an arms length away.

 4. The keyboard and the mouse should be positioned as close to the user as possible. If this is not the case, the user will adapt a forward flexed posture of the back, which increases the strains on the lower back.

 The keyboard should not be positioned at an angle as this promotes an awkward posture of the wrists which could result in injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The legs on the keyboard should be flat, the reason the keyboards in the past tilted towards you, was so that people who could not touch type could see the keys!

For more information on how you can improve your home-office, please visit the website of

By Dale Kennedy and Esmeralda Aalders.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 May 2008 )
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