Principles of Office Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science of properly fitting the workspace to the worker, and maximizing the layout and available tools to create efficiency and productivity. Ill-fitting office furniture, integration of computers in the workplace, and the demand for productivity & longer work hours has resulted in the adaptation of poor work postures and the performance of repetitive tasks in those sustained poor postures.

Based on the most recently compiled information:

  • As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, common pain conditions are having an adverse impact on productivity. Researchers found that lost productive time due to back pain, headache, neck pain, and other musculoskeletal discomfort was costing US companies an estimated $61.2 billion per year.
  • The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) now account for more than one-third of all occupational illnesses and injuries, and constitute the largest job-related illness and injury problem in the US today.
    • In the most recently compiled information, employers reported a total of 487,900 lost workdays due to work-related MSDs, representing nearly 50% of all lost work days.
    • On top of the productivity costs, employers pay out approximately $20 billion annually in lost time benefits.


Did you know: Office workers who were most likely to report pain associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were not necessarily the ones who spent the most time using a computer, but the workers who felt their workstation design was poor. The reality is that the standard 29"-30" high desk is designed for someone 6'1"-6'3" tall.

A standard office desk should not be selected as a computer workstation. Adjustable height workstations are considered the best alternative; however, other solutions can be implemented to accommodate the individual. These solutions vary based on the employee's physical characteristics but can be easily implemented by an ergonomic solutions specialist at a very low investment that can deliver significant returns.

Frequent postural change is the key to avoiding MSDs. Postural shifts that include standing, leaning, and proper sitting gives your body the positional variability it needs to keep blood flowing to your muscles, which minimizes fatigue. Standing upright also burns more calories, engages fat burning enzymes and keeps "good cholesterol" levels up.

If you can't stand at work, then you must sit properly and comfortably. An ergonomic chair, monitor arm and keyboard tray work in concert with one another to provide the safest ergonomic posture for comfortable and productive seated computer work. Take frequent stretch breaks and try to walk for 5 minutes every hour.

It is important to realize that for most jobs, vision, our ability to see our work, dictates the majority of our body mechanics and postures that we adopt in the workspace. Inability to see well will typically result in adopting postures that are potentially injurious if maintained over a period of time. As an example, consider a computer-based job: Straining to see our computer monitor(s) (which are typically mounted on the rear of our desk) can result in craning of the neck, sitting on the front edge of our chairs and the forward hunching of our shoulders. Compound this with our keyboards sitting on top of our "too tall" desk and we have a recipe for a myriad of potential MSDs.

Typical Computer-user Poor Posture


Healthier Postures



Did you know: Standing requires 20% more energy than sitting, therefore, depending upon your weight, you can burn up to an extra 50 calories per hour by standing.

Everything in moderation however. Studies show excessive sitting has negative health consequences including greater risks for developing diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity. Excessive standing also poses risks including varicose veins and low back pain. The key to minimizing risk is frequent postural change. This is made easy with an adjustable height desk.

Ideal Positioning for Sustained Computer Use


Tips for Picking a SitStand Desk:

  1. Select a desk that encourages frequent change. Electric desks are easy to move frequently, can handle lots of weight and many have memory settings. Crank desks or spring loaded units require some physical force to alter desk height.
  2. Pick a unit that allows you to work the way you prefer. If you like to spread your work out, or want to have items within your reach zone, avoid the 'desk on desk' type solutions that minimize desk space.
  3. To save money and preserve the look of your office interior, consider just buying an electric base and sliding under your existing desktop. Depending on your desired desk size and configuration you can get 1 leg, 2 leg, 3 leg or 4 leg units.
  4. Compliment the setup with a monitor arm for the best ergonomics and space savings.


Did you know: Identifying the right keyboard and keyboard tray for your workspace is one of the greatest challenges when setting up an ergonomic workstation.

There are a myriad of models and alternatives to choose from. Understanding which is the most appropriate for the individual can be a daunting and confusing task. Even more important, once the equipment is purchased and installed, training the end user on its proper use is critical.

Summit will consult with you to select the right keyboard tray to accommodate the proper height, keyboard design, workspace dimensions, typing ability, positioning and most importantly educate the individual in proper usage and adjustments based on their needs. This will maximize your investment and more importantly significantly reduce the potential for developing CTDs (Cumulative Trauma Disorders) associated with keyboarding and mousing.


Keyboards have gotten smaller as demands for space and smaller devices has increased. Laptops and slimline keyboards are notorious for putting our wrists in awkward angles to accommodate the necessary hand positions. Narrow keyboards and larger torso widths just aren't compatible with neutral wrist positioning. Extreme wrist deviation is a significant factor for developing a CTD.


  1. Know the depth of the workspace where the keyboard tray is to be installed. Measure the underside of the desk from the front edge to the back edge or to the first barrier encountered (metal rail, support beam etc)
  2. Know the desired mousing hand for the end-user.
  3. Ask the end-user if they are a touch typist or more of a "hunt & peck" typist.
  4. Know the dimensions of the users keyboard



Did you know: The estimated increase of productivity due to use of dual monitors was found to be 29% for workers doing spreadsheet tasks and 44% for those doing text-based tasks. The study also found that shifting to newer widescreen format monitors from the old standard 19" monitors resulted in productivity gains translating to 10 extra days of work per year.

With more and larger monitors comes less physical workspace. Monitor arms provide a great solution to the space issue by lifting the monitors off the desk, while encouraging proper ergonomics with the adjustability of the height, depth and tilt of the screen. Eye and neck strain can be reduced or even eliminated with proper positioning of the monitor arm. Setup and end-user training is critical as individual needs vary based on height, visual acuity and even age.

Laptop computers can also be raised with a laptop shelf that simply mounts to a monitor arm. If using a laptop as your main computer, consider connecting an external monitor to facilitate proper ergonomics and better viewing.


  1. Identify the weight of the monitor (without the stand) and ensure the monitor arm weight range specification matches.
  2. Ensure the monitor you want to mount has a VESA mount standard (4 holes in a square pattern 100mm (about 4") apart).
  3. Ensure your desk can accommodate the mounting system. Mounts using desk grommet holes, desk edge clamps, taskbars or wall mounts are the most common. Some monitors come with a flexible mounting system, others force you to choose at the time of purchase.
  4. If purchasing a dual arm, ensure the width of your monitors can be accommodated.



Did you know: An angle of 110-130 degrees between the torso and thighs places the least amount of stress on the low back.

Sitting in the recumbent position recommended above also has the added benefit of forcing the shoulders back and opening the chest for better breathing and oxygen transfer. A tapered back rest helps facilitate this by allowing the shoulders to move naturally.

Sitting in this reclined position allows the chair user to utilize the support of the backrest as the designers intended. Too often we are guilty of sitting on the front edge of our chair so that we can see our monitors and gain access to our keyboard which is sitting on top of the desk.

Being highly productive in this position is possible with the combined use of a keyboard tray & monitor arm, or alternatively with an adjustable height desk with a concave front that allows one to tuck oneself under the desk and support the forearms on the desk.

Tips for Purchasing an Ergonomic Chair:

  1. If you are going to get armrests, they should be height and width adjustable but also consider 360 degree swiveling arm rests. They are offset in length from the stem, allowing one to rotate the arm 180 degrees to get closer to the desk. You can also swivel the arm to match your arm angle if using it for support.
  2. Make sure your chair has a locking independent back angle so you can gain support both in an upright posture and a recumbent posture. Free floating chairs provide less support resulting in core muscle fatigue over the course of the day.
  3. Make sure the seat pan is the proper depth and width for your body. You should have 2-3 finger widths between the end of the seat and the back of your knees, and 1" of seat on either side of your hips.
  4. Consider using a KBT and monitor arm with your new chair to maximize its effectiveness. Recumbent seating minimizes compressive force on your spine and opens your chest and allows for diaphragmatic breathing.


Did you know: People in their 60s require 5-6x more light than do people in their 20s. 91% of computer users suffer from eyestrain and that non-adjustable overhead light creates glare and distractions which contribute to eyestrain.

This creates a tremendous disparity between the lighting needs around an office. A single source system of overhead lighting is inadequate and causes a significant amount of waste in office environments.

Task lighting has been shown to have the benefit of increasing worker productivity, largely due to individuals being given control over their own lighting levels. Participants in a lighting study using task lights produced a 35% to 42% decrease in energy consumption.

Selecting the proper task light has a lot to do with style and personal tastes; however placing a task light in the proper position is the key to generating the cost saving benefits.



Did you know: A recent study showed that workers who regularly file papers and organize their office save on average 15 minute to 1 hour of time daily that would normally be spent searching for things, translating to increased productivity.

Storage, while not thought of as an ergonomic solution per se, plays a significant role in a productive and efficient office space. Adequate storage means less paper and clutter on the desk, which allows our most commonly used items to be positioned easily within reach.



Did you know: 70 percent of employers have gone to open plan arrangements in the office with no or low cubicles to foster collaboration, yet the majority of workers complain about ambient noise levels and lack of privacy as their biggest barriers to productivity.

Study results show that having one's own private space that can be personalized enhances productivity. Many employees of open environment companies will opt for work at home days when they need to "get their work done". Most workers seek the refuge of the conference room for collaboration due to the noise levels in open environment offices.

Taller partition walls with a top layer of glass are a great way to "privatize" workspace, yet provide the feeling of open concept and let the ambient light from the windows in. To encourage workers to get the health benefits of standing, taller cubicle walls are necessary for creating privacy and noise barrier for the standing employee.



Did you know: Summit has the ability to research our vast product database to find the best solution for your specific need should you not see what you are looking for on our website.

Summit has access to many vendors of various types of ergonomic equipment and office furniture. Examples include material handling devices for industry and retail environments, workplace accommodation interventions, personal protective equipment, amongst others.