A Workspace Ergonomics Checklist for Back Pain Sufferers

Are you participating in our 8-week back pain challenge? Your task for week four is to audit your workspace to ensure it’s assisting your recovery and prevention. Here’s how…

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Back pain is one of the most common work-related injuries and can be caused by ordinary work activities, such as sitting in an office chair or heavy lifting. If you’re suffering from back pain, one of the things you can do to assist your recovery is to assess your workstation, and make some simple adjustments and improvements to optimise your comfort.

Conduct an ergonomic audit of your workspace

Use the below checklist from Axis Physiotherapy and Axis Rehabilitation at Work to audit your workspace and ensure you are not exacerbating your back pain.

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There are a variety of hazardous sedentary and manual tasks at work which could cause physical strain. Some of these might include exposure to awkward postures, sustained postures (more than 30 minutes at a time), repetitive movements, high sudden or repetitive forces, vibration in the whole body or hand and upper limb.¹

Here are a few things to consider at your workstation.

Chair

It’s important to have a good comfortable chair with the following features:

  • Adjustable back rest in height and angle with lumbar support
  • Adjustable seat angle
  • Curved seat edge
  • Adjustable height
  • Five star castor base

It’s one thing to have a comfortable chair, but it’s equally as important to know how to drive your chair.

  • Familiarise yourself with chair features and how to adjust them.
  • Sit well back in the chair.
  • Adjust your seat height so that with your shoulders relaxed, your elbows are at or greater than 90 degrees bent when your hands are on the home row of your keyboard.
  • If your feet are not resting easily on the floor, you may need a footrest.
  • Check seat pan depth – your thighs should be well supported with three finger’s width available behind the knees.
  • Adjust the back support position in height and tension if you need to.
  • Ensure the angle of the seat back allows for an open hip position, i.e. greater than 90 degrees. You may find your trunk slightly reclined.
  • Your chair may have a free-floating mechanism which unlocks the settings so you can move a bit while you’re sitting.
  • Most office task chairs don’t require armrests, as they can interfere with sitting up close to the desk.

Keyboard, mouse and monitor

Assess both the positioning of equipment and its use. Consider:

  • Keyboard position: your keyboard should be directly in front of you, allowing some room to rest your wrists or forearms.
  • Keyboard angle and tilt: your wrists should feel comfortable and not tilted too far back.
  • Mouse positions and settings: your mouse should be close to the keyboard. Consider whether to use the mouse on both sides if you do a lot of data entry.
  • Screen: your screen should be directly in front of you, approximately an arm’s length away. This will vary depending on your eye requirements. If you have multiple screens, determine which you use the most (primary screen / secondary screen). If you use dual screens 50:50, have the screens joining directly in front of you. If not, adjust so that your neck is not twisting awkwardly. The top of the screen should be at eye level or lower and the angle should be flat to avoid glare from lights above.
  • Laptops: laptops are designed for short-term and mobile use. They usually lack adjustability which can impact your posture. Consider docking your laptop or use separate keyboard or monitor to promote good postures.

Desk

  • Ensure you have space underneath the desk to move your legs comfortably.
  • Is your desk adjustable? A sit-to-stand workstation allows you to move freely between sitting and standing. The key is to change position often (at least every 30 minutes) between sitting, standing and walking. Recent research suggests that you should stand between 2 – 4 hours a day whilst at work.² Make sure you watch your posture when standing too. Try to keep weight evenly between both feet and don’t lean on the desk.
  • Consider where your desk is positioned in relation to windows and lights. Are blinds available to reduce glare?
  • Have electrical cabling loomed neatly around the work area to avoid a trip hazard or unwanted contact.

Desktop Items

  • You should consider the layout of your desk to minimise overreaching. The most frequently used items should be within easy reach.
  • A document holder may be needed (placed between your keyboard and screen) to avoid awkward postures.
  • If you’re a frequent phone user, consider using a headset.

Workflow

No matter how well your workstation is setup, sitting there all day (as well as at home) is detrimental to our physical and psychosocial wellbeing. Remember to keep moving throughout the day.

Set yourself up correctly

After running through this checklist, you should be better setup to minimise risks in your workspace, preventing further injury to your back.

¹ Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice 2016 – Safe work Australia
² Buckley JP, et al. British Journal  Sports Medicine 2015;1-1-6 doi:10.1136/brjsports-2015-094618

Disclaimer: The Herron blog is interested in general community wellbeing and information, and does not imply that Herron products should be used for serious ailments without the advice or recommendation from your healthcare practitioner.

All information presented on the Herron website is meant for general knowledge and never meant as a diagnosis of prescription. Please always contact your doctor for health related matters.