Ergonomics: Workstation Setup for Health

by JL Beeken on 2-27-2008

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, ergonomics is defined as:

an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely

If you live in Europe this may be common knowledge. I don’t, and it came as a complete surprise to me.

I’m told that Switzerland has outlawed chairs in schools for the past nine years. Students and teachers have to either sit on balls or stand at podiums. They’ve known since the 1950′s that sitting is killing people and the government finally did something about it. In the past year, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have all followed suit.

Last week I went to visit a man who told me the human body is not designed for sitting. After more than half a century of developing this beloved pastime, now they tell me. So what do you do instead? Well, you sit on a Swiss Ball, which is not the same as sitting in a chair and is called active-sitting, or you stand up and move around. Or you squat for a rest. And you sleep on your back. The man’s not kidding. He’s been either standing or sitting on balls for most of his life.

Swiss Balls

Then I spent the rest of the afternoon tearing my computer desk apart and putting it back together. For starters, I couldn’t sit with both my feet on the floor, without pain, because the floor isn’t level. I kept myself from sliding downhill by propping my left foot against some other furniture. This forced me to slouch in my chair. The monitor was way too low. My computer desk is not even designed for the proper height so I had to take the footrest off. I got an old dishpan from the garage, turned it upside down and set the monitor on top.

I’m now sitting on a DuraDisk, an air-filled cushion that sits on top of my chair.

DuraDisk

I’m far from being an exercise-expert so I’ll try to keep this short.

Because the disk is malleable, my hips adjust to level ignoring the slant of the floor. I can exercise intentionally by wiggling around on it, or I can just sit still. (It’s built to last for years. You can even stand on it.) As the disk moves subtly it makes me use my back and core muscles to sit upright. They say sitting on a ball also nourishes the circulation of the spinal fluid and makes you more able to relax your mind and focus. If you already have back-problems, sitting on balls can help. If you’ve been slumping your way through life you should probably do something different.

I’ve been seeing these disks and balls around for years. You probably have, too. I just wasn’t paying attention.

The first day I sat on the disk for hours while I was testing and re-arranging. Although it was awkward at first, challenging my muscles in new ways, I slept like a baby and noticed absolutely no adverse effects upon waking. A week later I’m a changed person.

10 Tips for Healthy Ergonomics

Here’s a free explanation of computer ergonomics with some pictures. The best I’ve seen is 10 Tips for Healthy Ergonomics. Lots of great pictures and step-by-step instructions for getting yourself set up properly, with or without a chair.

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