Ergonomics done right.®
April 1st, 2010

March Office Webinar Q & A

Thank you to those who attended our most recent webinar, Improve Your Office Ergonomics: Using the Four Points of Contact™. As promised, below are the questions you asked our presenter, Winnie Ip, and her responses.

Q: ­Please repeat the Four Points of Contact­.

The Four Points of Contact are Eyes to Source, Hands to Input Device, Body to Chair, and Feet to Floor.

Q: How do you address the issue with the laptops?  The screen is either too low, or the keyboard is too high.

Laptops are probably the most un-ergonomic piece of office equipment we use!  Laptops were really designed purely for the convenience of business travel, where they would be used for short bursts of time on the road. Unfortunately, nowadays, many of us use laptops as a replacement for desktop computers, but don’t take the time to ensure we have the right equipment to enable us to use it properly for longer periods of time.

The only real way of setting laptops properly is to use peripherals like external monitors/keyboards/mice so that you can at least set up one part of it correctly.  This might seem like a challenge for people that are constantly on the road but there are a few companies out there now that make travel laptop accessories that are slim, lightweight, and portable (see Goldtouch’s Go! and Laptop stand bundle:

Q: I’ve read some articles talking about chairs, specifically the seat pan. There were some suggestions of tilting the pan forward, opening the angle between the trunk and legs beyond 90 degrees to put the spine in more of a standing/neutral position. Do you have any opinions or comments on the matter?

Yes, that is the latest research coming out in terms of seated postures…it’s also what I subtly mentioned in my presentation regarding having a 90 degree or slightly open angle at the knees and hips.  The traditional thought was simply 90 degrees at the elbows, hips, knees, and ankles but latest research has supported 90 to 110 degrees for the elbows, hips, and knees to relieve compressive disc pressure in the spine.

Key to all of this, however, is that there is no one perfect posture.  People should be varying their posture throughout the day and shouldn’t ever be in one static posture.

Q: I did have one question that has come up recently at our facility that concerns the use of an "exercise ball" as a chair.  I have looked at information on the web and find arguments on both sides of the issue.  As a safety person I have to say it makes be nervous to see people balanced on a ball.  From your experience and expertise, what is your opinion on the use of these devices?

Exercise balls, also known as FitBalls, Swiss Balls, Physio Balls, etc., have increased in popularity and are commonly seen when visiting a local gym or rehabilitation center. Oddly enough, they can be found in the office as well. While the ball has significant advantages in promoting core strength training in routine exercises, there are significant drawbacks when using the ball in your everyday work environment.

To begin with, the ball promotes trunk stability and the use of the lower back and core abdominal muscles to support the body while maintaining a neutral spine posture. Using these muscles is a good way to strengthen them, but only for a limited amount of time. Over an eight-hour shift, the muscles will fatigue rapidly, causing the body to compensate and assume non-neutral postures, otherwise known as slumping. Slumping will place pressure on the spinal discs, which may cause discomfort and outweigh the assumed benefits of using the ball at work. The ball can also be unstable and have a tendency to roll, even when placed in a ring, thereby introducing a safety hazard in the office.

In addition, the balls are not height adjustable and do not accommodate workers of different statures. Because the balls are a fixed height, workers may assume non-neutral arm and leg postures while seated at a desk. Working with shrugged shoulders or dangled arms for the duration of the day may create discomfort, again outweighing the perceived benefits of the ball.

Finally, while there are therapeutic and training benefits to using an exercise ball as an office chair, inherent risks exist with sustained use of the ball. To be most effective, exercise balls should be used for their primary purpose, in physical therapy centers and training facilities. To get the most support, stability, and adjustability from your office seating, use standard ergonomic office chairs that have a range of adjustability.

Q: ­What if you have two monitors? ­

Set up of dual monitors depend on whether they are both being used as primary sources or whether they are being used as primary/secondary sources.  If both monitors are used as primary sources, center both monitors directly in front of the user and angle both monitors approximately 15° in towards the user . If dual monitors are being used as primary/secondary sources, position the primary source directly in front of the user and position the secondary source approximately 30° towards the user.

Q: ­Can you recommend peer reviewed journal articles?

Three sources we commonly use for peer reviewed journal articles on ergonomics include:

§  Ergonomics (Publisher : Taylor & Francis)

§  Applied Ergonomics (Publisher : Elsevier Science)

§  Human Factors (Publisher : Human Factors and Ergonomics Society)


Q: ­Is there a "good" & "affordable" office chair that will accommodate the majority of users, who spend excessive amounts of time at their desk?  We’ve gotten lots of complaints among all users with chairs. ­

A good office chair is a must for employees who spend the majority of their time seated at their desks.  A chair study we did internally a few years back, helped specify what we now use across our company, the Steelcase Leap.  Other chairs that work well in large offices where cost may be a prohibitive factor include the Herman Miller Aeron, the Haworth Improv, and the Neutral Posture 5000 series.  In many cases, manufacturers or distributors will offer significant discounts if you set up an account with them and/or are considering a bulk order.

Q: One of the photos you showed had a lady in high-heel shoes. What about the feet being flat on the floor?

We can’t realistically dictate what type of shoes people wear in the office workplace so if workers are wearing high-heel shoes, they should adjust their chair height to ensure they can comfortable rest their feet on the floor with their hips and knees at 90°. 

Q: ­What if your armrests will not adjust below elbow level?

If the armrests are not height adjustable to below elbow level, see if they can be swiveled out of the way so they do not interfere with tasks being performed by the employee.  If the armrests are not adjustable at all, observe the employee’s interaction with the armrests to determine whether this is a major problem.  Key is that employees aren’t resting and planting their elbows on the armrests while they are typing/keying.  As long as they can do both tasks with minimal interference, it is fine.

Q: ­It looks like you want us to eliminate using wrist and mouse pads, is that true? ­ ­What are your thoughts about gel pads in front of keyboards and the mouse?­

Gel wrist and mouse pads are fine as long as they are used properly.  As the name implies (wrist rest) they should only be used for resting, not while typing or mousing.  When performing these tasks, your hands and arms should be “free floating”, not planted in one position, as this causes soft tissue compression in a localized area and also leads to employees adopting non-neutral wrist postures.  When we see employees who plant their wrists on these gel rests, we typically have them remove the rest or turn it around (i.e., mouse gel pads) until they get accustomed to the free-floating technique.

Q: ­Is there an "Order of Operations" strategy when evaluating a workstation?

You can follow the Four Points of Contact method when evaluating a workstation to ensure you’ve covered all the necessary components:

§  Eyes to Source (adjusting the monitor height and position),

§  Hands to Input Device (adjusting the keyboard/mouse),

§  Body to Chair (adjusting the chair – lumbar support, armrests, etc), and

§  Feet to Floor (further adjustments to the chair and possibly the need for a footrest)

Don’t forget to take time to talk to the employee as well to learn more about other tasks that might be performed and to also see if they have any areas of discomfort.

Q: ­How do you feel about removing armrests?­

Armrests should be kept on chairs as they provide several benefits to office users.  First, they provide a rest point for users’ arms when taking breaks (i.e., when taking a phone call or reading materials) and second, they provide a leverage point to help users out of their chairs (i.e., keeps the chair stable).  Key is to ensure the armrests are adjusted correctly so they do not interfere with tasks and do not create a contact point where users are planting their elbows for long periods of time.

Q: ­What's the best way to deal with a worker who has short legs and a long torso?

You still want to follow the same adjustment procedure so position the top of the screen at eye level (Eyes to Source) and position the user so their arms are positioned at a 90° angle (Hands to Input Device).  If the worker has a long torso and short legs, they will likely need a footrest so that their feet are flat on the floor (Feet to Floor).

Q: ­Please explain the ruling for the state of California or where can I find more info?

You can find more information on the Cal-OSHA Ergonomics Standard following these links:





Q: In your handouts there was a keyboard and monitor stand that was raised to accommodate Sit/Stand, can you provide the manufacturer and name of this?

There are several manufacturers that make adjustable keyboard monitor stands to accommodate sit/stand workstations.  One that we recommend is the FX Fluid Series made by MediaMounts ( as it has a range of adjustments for both the monitor and keyboard.