A 2004 survey by Singapore General Hospital showed that 70 per cent of office workers in Singapore suffer some form of back, shoulder and neck pain. In an office environment, poor posture, incorrect working habits and prolonged sedentary work seem to be the key culprits.

When work is painful

Repetitive strain injury or RSI is a collective term for a range of conditions characterised by discomfort or persistent pain in muscles, tendons and other soft tissues as a result of doing the same thing repeatedly without sufficient support, rest or alternation of actions. Some of the common conditions are backaches, stiff necks and shoulders and carpal tunnel syndrome.

More serious are work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) which are characterised by discomfort, impairment, disability, or persistent pains in joints, muscles, tendons or other soft tissues.

Ergonomics in the office

The above health problems can be prevented by making simple and inexpensive changes around the workplace. Office ergonomics refers to the use of office furniture and equipment that promotes good posture and good work habits.

Work table

A comfortable height for doing paperwork may be too high for working on a computer. You can install a height-adjustable keyboard and mouse tray system below the table or place the keyboard and mouse on top of the desk and compensate by elevating the chair and using a foot rest to support your feet.

Keep the space under the desk clear. There should be enough knee clearance and legroom for you to stretch out your legs. Frequently used items on the workstation such as your keyboard and mouseshould be within easy reach.

Chair

A good office chair should have an adjustable seat, proper lumbar support, a backrest, adequate seat width and depth, appropriate arm rests, and the ability to swivel. Adjust the chair height so that your feet are comfortably flat on the floor; the thighs are approximately horizontal and the lower leg approximately vertical. Elbows should be bent around 90 degrees or wider and should reach just above the top surface of the desk.

Computer monitor

The best place to put the monitor is directly in front of you. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below your eye level. It should also be about an arm’s length away from where you’re sitting. Tilt the screen upwards so that the base is slightly closer to you than the top.

Keyboard

The keyboard and mouse should be placed at the same level and allow users to adopt a natural hand position. Adjust the keyboard to maintain forearms, wrists and hands in a straight line. Use the minimum amount of force necessary to type.

Mouse

The mouse should be close to your keyboard and within easy reach. Again, keep the wrist straight and level when using the mouse. Mice come in different sizes, so choose one that fits comfortably in your hand. You don’t need to click very hard to operate the mouse; don’t grip it too tightly either. Let go of your mouse when you’re not using it.

Telephone

The phone should be positioned within arm’s reach. Keep your head straight and shoulders relaxed as you answer phone calls. If you use the phone frequently all day long, consider using a headset.

Lighting

Poor lighting can lead to vision problems like eyestrain or dry eyes. Use blinds or curtains to block out direct sunlight if you are sitting with your face or back to the window.