Ergonomics done right.®
March 19th, 2013

Webinar Q&A: Five Steps to Improve Ergonomics in the Office

by Winnie Ip, CPE and Kent Hatcher, CPE

Thanks to those of you who attended last week’s webinar, Five Steps to Improve Ergonomics in the Office. Below are answers to the questions that were posed during the live event.

Q: Flicker rate – if not adjusted properly, what symptoms would someone have?  How do you adjust it?  What should it be?

A: According to the Microsoft Windows website, a flickering monitor can contribute to eyestrain and headaches. You can reduce or eliminate flickering by increasing the screen refresh rate. A refresh rate of at least 75 hertz generally produces less flicker. (When I checked the options for my Dell laptop, I had a choice of 40 or 60 Hz.)

You might need to change your screen resolution before changing the refresh rate because not every screen resolution is compatible with every refresh rate. The higher the resolution, the higher your refresh rate should be. To adjust the refresh rate for your monitor:

  1. Open Display Settings by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Appearance and Personalization, clicking Personalization, and then clicking Display Settings.
  2. Click Advanced Settings.
  3. Click the Monitor tab, and then select a new refresh rate. The monitor will take a moment to adjust. If you want to keep the changes, click Apply. If you don’t apply the changes within fifteen seconds, the refresh rate will revert back to your original setting.

Q: I have a gal who is physically sick in the office and she feels it is motion sickness.  Could this be caused from the flicker rate set too high or too low?  What else could cause someone to feel motion sickness in the office?

A: The effects of pronounced flicker sensitivity are varied, but in some cases has been an indicator of a vestibular disorder.  It is best to have the individual consult their medical professional for confirmation and guidance.

Q: People always complain the office is too bright.  Are there better bulbs for offices?  What about pink lighting?

A: I have not had any experience with pink lighting.  Generally however, I would say that it is best to keep the overhead lighting levels low, and provide individual task lighting for each workstation.

Q: When arms are ‘floating’, don’t you need more static work by the neck/shoulder muscles to keep the arms in place?

A: This is true in some postures, as arms contacting the arm rests have a passive structure to bear weight.  However, generally it is best if the arms have NO contact with the armrests while typing or mousing, as this may result in irritation of the nerves and blood supply.   Moreover, if the armrests are adjusted or sized incorrectly, they frequently impede the individual from moving the chair in under the desk, close to the work.

Q: What research can you cite for NOT using the wrist pad? Do you have an academic source for that information? 

A: We are primarily recommending vertical mice now, such as the Evoluent or 3M Joystick.  With these mice, a wrist rest is not necessary because the wrist is in the neutral position.

Q: What are your thoughts regarding sit/stand?

A: Prolonged activity of any kind is not ideal so varying postures throughout the workday is encouraged. Studies have shown that standing burns 40% more calories than sitting (i.e., standing 2.5 hours/day is equivalent to burning 350 calories). For more information regarding sitting vs standing, check out one of our archived webinars called “Sit vs Stand – What’s the Best Ergonomic Design?”

Q: For foot rests, shouldn’t feet be “flat”?  If so, why would an adjustable angle footrest be used?

A: Ideally, an individual’s feet should be resting flat on the floor or footrest surface (i.e., right angle at the ankles and knees). However, this is provided that they are wearing shoes with a flat sole. Footrests typically have angle adjustability to accommodate individuals that may wear shoes with varying heels to allow users to comfortably choose the most appropriate angle.

Q: Will setting the workstation properly reduce the tingling and numbing on the hands?

A: Proper workstation setup is one of the fundamental ways of reducing ergonomic risk in the office as it ensures that users are in neutral postures. Keep in mind, though, that there are other risk factors that you need to also consider: force exertions, repetitive tasks, and static durations. In addition, if an individual is already experiencing tingling or numbness in the hands, this is a sign that nerves are affected and medical attention should be sought.

Q: I do see a few team members lean forward when sitting at their desk. They say they can see the screen and it’s just a habit. Any recommendations on changing bad behaviors (outside of training)?

A: This can be a difficult one since habits are typically formed over several weeks/months.  But, just as bad habits are formed, good habits can also take shape as long as individuals are willing to change. A couple of tactics that might work:

  • taking photos of individuals and letting them post it at their desk as good visual reminders of proper postures
  • making individuals take self-assessments to encourage personal pride and ownership.

Q: How are you addressing dual monitor setups?  Often these are large, 21″.  Also sometimes one monitor is set vertically.

A: At a basic level, dual monitor setup depends on how the individual is using each screen.

  • Primary-Primary: If both monitors are primary screens, set them up in a V-shape and position the point of the “V” directly in front of the user.
  • Primary-Secondary: If the monitors are split into primary and secondary screens, position the primary screen directly in front of the user and the secondary screen should be as close as possible to the primary screen.

Q: What criteria do you use to decide on dual monitor vs. single large (22″-24″) screen?

A: There are no hard and fast rules or criteria for determining when to use dual monitors vs a single large screen, however, if users consistently use both monitors as primary viewing surfaces (as in the primary-primary example above), it may be beneficial to switch to a single screen to minimize the “break” in the screen where the two monitor edges join with one another. Of course, this should also be balanced out from a cost-benefit ratio and determining whether dual monitors are indeed a necessary part of the job function. In many cases, two smaller monitors cost less than one large monitor so equipment, maintenance, and replacement costs need to also be factored in.

Q: What about the importance of monitor arms?

A: Great point. We didn’t have time to go over this in detail but monitor arms are useful to help users adjust their monitor at the proper height/angle/distance. This is especially true for users that want to vary between sitting and standing postures at a workstation. Many monitors these days already come with built in adjustability (height and angle) so monitor arms are not always necessary.

Q: Do you think it is warranted to have heavy mouse users switch between right and left hand periodically?

A: Absolutely. This is a great way to reduce an individual’s exposure to prolonged use in any given hand. Of course, this recommendation will often come with the most resistance, as most individuals are more comfortable using their dominant hand for hand-intensive tasks such as mousing.

From personal experience though, having individuals slowly “ramp up” to non-dominant hand mousing is key. During the first week, try it out for 2 hour per day, then 4, then 6, then voila—before you know it, your mousing with both hands will seem natural.

Q: When is it appropriate to use a trackball mouse? 

A: Selection of input devices is a highly personal thing. There are many trackball mice options (i.e., thumb, finger, palm) but in almost all cases, it comes down to user preference.  Some pros/cons for trackballs are listed below.


    • Limited upper arm movement required (good for users with limited mobility or range of motion in the shoulder/elbow)
    • Does not require a large mousing surface (good for users with small keyboard trays)


    • Typically designed for one-handed use (right- or left-handed options available but difficult to switch between the two)
    • Dependence on one digit to control all mouse movement (i.e., thumb or index finger operated)

Q: We have a low frequency sound issue. It bothers some A LOT some hardly at all. Any suggestions? New vibratory bowl feeder was installed about 15 feet from office door and started this issue.

A: Ambient noise from equipment such as the bowl feeder you mention (in addition to others such as printers, copiers, etc.) can be a stress factor and lead to concentration difficulties.  Most noise assessments in the workplace focus on noise exposure that leads to hearing impairment but recent studies have started to point towards the importance of addressing low frequency noise as well (Pereira & Branco, 2007).

To reduce noise levels from peripheral equipment:

  • Isolate noisy office equipment using sound barriers and panels with higher acoustical absorption ratings
  • Consider adding more insulation along the periphery of the office/plant walls/ceiling
  • Ensure equipment follows a regular equipment maintenance schedule