Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the practice of fitting the job to the individual, which can help prevent work-related musculoskeletal injuries. Examples of musculoskeletal injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and low back pain. 

The goal of the Ergonomics Program is to help University departments/units and personnel identify risk factors that can contribute to the development of work-related musculoskeletal injuries and determine solutions to eliminate or reduce these risk factors.

EH&S provides guidance to University personnel with ergonomic questions and concerns. Below are guidance documents, assessment tools, and consultation referrals that UW units and personnel can use to better fit the job to the individual.

Risk factors

Risk factors for the development of musculoskeletal injuries include awkward posturesrepetitive tasks, and/or forceful exertions. These types of injuries are usually cumulative; they develop over time, rather than resulting from a single event.

Musculoskeletal injuries can be prevented by evaluating work tasks that involve these risk factors and finding solutions to better fit the job to the person. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website covers these risk factors as well as other contributing factors in greater detail, along with advice for how to reduce or limit these risk factors.

Ergonomic hazard evaluation tools

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) provides ergonomic hazard evaluation tools to help you:

  • Identify tasks that may increase the risk of injury
  • Prioritize your injury prevention efforts
  • Determine if a solution adequately fixed the hazard

Use the L&I Caution Zone Checklist and the L&I Hazard Zone Checklist to identify job tasks that require awkward postures; highly repetitive motion; repeated impact; heavy, frequent or awkward lifting; moderate to high hand-arm vibration; or high hand force that could cause sprains and strains.

If hazards are identified, make the job safer by reducing the time spent doing the tasks under the limit listed in the checklist.

Office ergonomics

There are important steps you can take to set up your workstation, computer and chair to increase your comfort and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries while working in an office setting.

COMPUTER SETUP

ergonomic computer setup
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Set up your keyboard and mouse together on a level surface at elbow height.
  • Place your monitor an arms distance away and adjust the height of the monitor to eye level or just below. Use a box or books to achieve the proper height.
  • Keep arms at your side, elbows bent at 90 degrees, keeping your wrists straight or slightly downward. You may have to place a pillow or cushion under you if the table is too high.
  • Using a laptop that does not allow the screen and keyboard to be separated can result in either neck/head strain or hand/wrist strain. An external monitor can be used to achieve the proper monitor height.
  • Close the blinds or locate the monitor away from the window to eliminate or avoid glare.

CHAIR SETUP

ergonomic chair setup
Source: American Industrial Hygiene Association

  • Adjust your chair so that your legs are parallel to the floor and your feet can be placed on the floor. Use a footrest or stack some books to support your feet if needed.
  • If you need more back support roll up a towel or place a cushion behind your lower back to provide better lumbar support.
  • Locate your phone and other accessories within in arms reach. To enhance teleworking options see UW IT resources.

Watch the Ergonomics Instructional Videos for detailed instructions on setting up your workstation.

If you continue to experience discomfort after making adjustments to your workstation, a change in one or more workstation components may be needed. These resources may help you select ergonomic furniture and equipment:

Requests for office ergonomic evaluations

Personnel can request an online office ergonomic self-assessment, which includes questions about areas of discomfort and produces recommended workstation adjustments and training resources to help alleviate the areas of discomfort. When an online self-assessment is completed, EH&S will review and determine if an on-site visit is warranted by our ergonomic consultant. 

UW Medicine providers seeking ergonomic assessments should contact their department, and other UW Medicine employees should contact their Employee Health Center.

Any UW employees who have medical referrals should contact the UW Disability Services Office for assistance.

To request access to the online office ergonomic self-assessment tool, please complete our Office Ergonomics Evaluation Form.

Consultants for non-office environments

EH&S does not currently provide ergonomics assessments for non-office work environments. For these types of assessments, an outside consultant may be a good option for departments/units to address potential risk factors for the development of musculoskeletal injuries. Consultants will evaluate workstations or work tasks to determine if changes should be made for a better fit.

The University of Washington has established contracts with ErgoFit Consulting and Solutions Northwest to receive ergonomics assistance at negotiated rates.

Please contact ehsergo@uw.edu for more information on consultant services.

Training and information

The following training courses and resources are available online:

Additional training for supervisors and employees on ergonomics awareness is available from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries on the L&I Ergonomics webpage.

Workers' Compensation

Questions regarding employee work-related injuries or illness claims should be referred to UW Risk Services, Claim Services at claims@uw.edu or visit the Claim Services website.

Disability Services Office

For questions regarding disability or reasonable accommodation assistance, please contact the Disability Services Office at 206.543.6450, 206.543.6452 (TTY), by email at dso@uw.edu, or visit their website.