Hardware

Think Safety First! to avoid work-related injuries

IT support isn't normally considered a dangerous profession, but serious injuries can occur—even if you never leave your desk. Here is one tech's story about his painful work-related injury, along with tips on how you can avoid his fate.


How safe is your workstation? If it’s not set up properly, it could be the cause of a major injury down the road. I should know—I thought my workstation was set up perfectly until I was suddenly plagued by severe neck pain. Before you end up like me, or worse, read my story and take a few minutes to see if your workstation setup could become a major pain in the neck.

I thought I was being safe
I’ve been bashing away at keyboards for years and never suffered from any of the aches and pains that techs are usually warned about. I tried to make sure that I wasn’t bending my carpal tunnels the wrong way and that my feet were flat on the floor at all times, but, in the end, my casual attempts at proper form didn’t help me avoid an injury.

About two weeks ago, I left work at the usual time and drove home on the usual route. I pulled up in front of the house and then, as usual, turned to pick up the few things I had tossed on to the passenger seat. As I turned, a sudden and violent pain shot from the base of my skull down my neck. My head locked and felt like it was being squeezed down hard into my shoulders. To get a mental picture think, “Uncle Fester meets Quasimodo.”

The diagnosis
Somehow, I got into the house and tried to wait for the pain to pass. After 10 minutes, the pain hadn’t eased, so I called my doctor for an emergency appointment. She examined my neck and discovered that the muscle group that supports and controls the movement of my head had gone into a violent spasm. She prescribed Diazepam and rest. As I was leaving she asked me, “Do you work with computers?”

I told her that I did, and she said she wasn’t surprised.

“This is a classic sign that your screen is too low. Can you see over the top of it?” she asked.

Since I’m not a tall person, it had never occurred to me that my screen might be too low. Apparently, I had been stooping in my chair for just a little too long, and my neck basically rebelled. A long weekend away from work, the drugs, and a lot of sleep healed my injury. Not wanting to face that kind of pain again—and not wanting to begin a long-term relationship with Diazepam—I decided to make sure that this didn’t happen again.

Check out your workspace
When I returned to work, I checked out my screen height, and sure enough, I could look straight over the top of the screen without raising my head at all.

I looked around the office. Most people were taller than me, but they weren’t looking over their screens. A quick check revealed that most people had their chairs set much lower than mine and a lot of them were slouching badly. I have always tried to sit well, thinking that this was the most important part of workstation posture. Unfortunately, my attempt at good posture had forced me to overcompensate, causing some extremely painful muscular damage in my neck.

A simple solution
I took two unwanted plastic parts bins from the techies’ room and placed them upside down on my desk. I put my screen on top of them to raise the screen four inches. So now, I look directly at the top third of my screen. Since working at my new improved workstation, my neck injury has been reduced to just a painfully bad memory.

Most help-desk staffs spend their entire working day staring at a computer screen, so it’s vital that they get the layout of their workstations absolutely correct. I had to endure a painful reminder that my workstation was not up to my personal safety code, but you shouldn’t wait for an injury like mine to force you into making your workstation safe. I urge everyone to do a quick survey of their working areas and check the following:
  • Your Chair: Is it supporting you properly? Are you sitting up straight? Can you place both feet flat on the floor? Remember to never cross your legs.
  • Your Arms: Your forearms should be nearly horizontal, with your wrists straight or slightly bent downwards. NEVER allow your wrists to be bent upwards.
  • Your Eyes: The top third of your screen should be in the same horizontal plane as your eyes. Is the lighting right? Are there fluorescent lights above you? Are they in good condition and free of flicker? Does the sun shine on the screen or does it get in your eyes? Eyestrain can be a big factor in fatigue.

If you are in any doubt about the safety of your workstation, get your workplace safety officer involved. It may be okay now, but you could be in for a painful future.
What do you think of Jeff’s experience? Have you had a similar work-related injury? How did you change your working environment to eliminate the problem? Post a comment below or write to Jeff Dray and let us know what’s happening in your life.

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