Apr 09, 2014

Avoiding Occupational Health Hazards: How to Work at a Computer Safely

There are many occupational health hazards of sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day. Many of these hazards—eye fatigue, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back strain—are well known, but solutions to combat them may not be as universally understood. So, as part of our ongoing series to address safety in the workplace, let’s look at the most common problems and some easy solutions to help you minimize the negative effects of computer work so you can remain healthy.

Eye Strain/Fatigue

Take frequent visual breaks. Even if you aren’t getting up and walking away from the computer screen, you can take a visual break from focusing on the screen by simply looking at a faraway object (at least 20 feet away) for 10–15 seconds. Then, look at something very close up for 10–15 seconds, and then return to your work. This 30-second reprieve is well worth the benefit to your eyes.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

One of the most common complaints of a desk job is the repetitive-stress injury to the wrist and forearm known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This injury that can result from hours of preforming the same movements over and over, and tactics to avoid it start with, again, taking frequent breaks. Every 30­–60 minutes, do a few multi-directional hand stretches and shake out your wrists. Make sure that your wrists aren’t bending in either direction while typing—the keyboard should be just below elbow level, so that your wrists are relaxed and comfortable while typing.

Neck and Back Muscle Pain

The first step to preventing neck and back muscular pain due to your desk job is to make sure your desk, chair, keyboard, mouse and computer screen are all set up correctly. The monitor should be about 20 inches from your eyes, keyboard and mouse around or slightly below elbow level, seating arrangement so that knees are level with waist, lower back curve supported by chair, shoulders relaxed and back (not hunched forward). In addition to setting up the proper workstation, frequent breaks are also important, from stretching arms, neck and shoulders while seated, to getting up and walking around throughout the day.

In addition to these common workplace health hazards, make sure you also take a break now and again for fresh air, especially if your office is not well ventilated. Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle and/or frequent trips to a water cooler. And if you have any occupational health concerns, report them to your HR director.

For more health and safety tips, visit our Health and Safety blog, and if you have any questions, AWANE is here to answer them!