Best buys in ergonomic supplies – criteria for selecting ergonomic furniture for computing and some representative products

Best buys in ergonomic supplies – criteria for selecting ergonomic furniture for computing and some representative products – Tutorial

Christopher Murray

Ergonomics is the science of comfort and convenience, or fit and function. It refers to how you relate to the task and machinery in front of you. Poor ergonomics can cause cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs), which include such common ailments as tennis elbow and writer’s cramp, and can progress to debilitating conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. These and other related problems are generally caused by the accumulated effects of continuous repetitive motions.

Here are a few things to consider when shopping for ergonomically designed furniture and accessories.


If, after sitting in your chair for 20 minutes, you find yourself changing positions a lot, your body is sending you a warning signal. When you lean back in your chair, do your heels rise up off the floor? If so, the front edge of the chair is constricting the flow of blood to your feet. Armrests are important for people who compute for long periods of time, because they can relieve tension by supporting their forearms. If your chair doesn’t have casters, the tendency is to stay put when another position would be more comfortable.

The Sensor I chair ($565), manufactured by Steelcase, and the Equa chair ($670), manufactured by Herman Miller, are well-constructed general-purpose swivel chairs with adjustable height and tilt, armrests, and reinforced lower-back support.

If your chair has no height adjustment, you can purchase a footrest that will elevate your feet and increase circulation. Microcomputer Accessories sells an adjustable FootEase footrest for $55. BackSaver Products makes the Foot Mate ($35). Many ergonomists recommend using a footrest regardless of whether or not you can adjust your char.

Back supports and seat cushions are BandAid solutions that may temporarily al leviate hack strain and chair-height problems but are seldom good substitutes for decent chairs. Few office chaffs are deep enough to accommodate even the thinnest cushions. But support pillows can prove useful on long-distance driving trips. BackSaver Products manufactures . Back Aide cushion for $70.


Most work surfaces are 29 to 30 inches in height, which is about one inch too high for a task such as writing. Most people w [11 find a desktop of 28 to 28.5 inches more to their liking. A keyboard should be placed on a lower surface so that your wrists are straight and your forearms are parallel to the floor. This translates into a keyboard height of about 23 to 25 inches.

ScanCo’s MacTable ($359) has a split surface that allows you to adjust the angle of both the keyboard and the monitor.

Keyboard-support devices fall into two categories. Stationary keyboard supports, which attach underneath the desk and pull out like a drawer, or articulating keyboard supports, which attach to the desktop and can be raised, lowered, swiveled, and tilted. Microcomputer Accessories offers a Super Underdesk keyboard drawer for $58. Steelcase ‘sells a Details articulating keyboard support for $370.

The wrist rest is essential in preventing CTDs. It helps your wrists support your arms and, hence, allows the arm and shoulder muscles to relax. Microcomputer Accessories makes the Keyboard Platform, which also adjusts the angle of the keyboard.

Your monitor should be about 20 degrees below your line of sight and positioned between 13 and 18 inches from your eyes. As a rule of thumb, you should have to sit up very straight to see over it.

Articulating monitor stands elevate the monitor and help free up desk space. Stationary monitor stands are more common and less expensive. Some of these incorporate slide-out keyboard trays, accessory compartments, and swivel/tilt features.

The primary obstacle to clear viewing is reflected light. Computer Covers Unlimited offers Champ Polar Filter Shields for $149 to $254, for polarized-glass models. Most antiglare filters can absorb up to 99 percent of reflected light. The glass variety accomplishes this with optical coatings. The metalmesh type is less expensive but may also be unsuitable for some people since the mesh itself can obstruct viewing.

Low-radiation screens reduce electrical emissions coming from the screen itself. Computer Covers Unlimited sells a variety of VU-TEK I optical devices, ranging from $90 to $350. It is widely believed that very-low-frequency (VLF) and extremely-low-frequency (ELF) emissions are harmful, but no medical evidence has conclusively resolved this issue.

When choosing a copy stand, the only important consideration is that your document be placed within the same arc of vision as the monitor and keyboard.


Ergonomics has as much to do with habits as it does with equipment. Since CTDs arise from repetition, try to avoid getting into a rut–vary your activities. Unfortunately, you can’t always vary your tasks. But you can vary your positions.

* Set an alarm clock and take a walk every hour. Researchers recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour.

* Beware of neutral positions. Anything that requires static exertion can lead to problems. Stretch your fingers, wriggle your toes, and tilt your head from side to side. The object is to relieve tension by not staying put.

* Avoid stress. Most researchers identify stress as a major factor contributing to workplace health problems, including CTDs.

The BackCare Corporation publishes the BackCare Report, an informative newsletter that addresses the issue of ergonomics. They also provide consultations on selecting ergonomically designed furniture and accessories. For more information, contact the BackCare Corporation, 200 S. Des Plaines Ave., Suite 309, Chicago, IL 60661, or call (312) 258-0888.


BackSaver Produccts, (800) 251-2225

Computer Covers Unlimited, (619) 277-0622

Herman Miller, (616) 772-3300

Microcomputer Accessories, (800) 521-8270

ScanCo, (800) 722-6263

Steelcase, (800) 227-2960

COPYRIGHT 1992 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group