What are ergonomic hazards?

Ergonomic hazards refer to workplace conditions that pose the risk of injury to the musculoskeletal system of the worker. Examples of musculoskeletal injuries include tennis elbow (an inflammation of a tendon in the elbow) and carpal tunnel syndrome (a condition affecting the hand and wrist). Ergonomic hazards include repetitive and forceful movements, vibration, temperature extremes, and awkward postures that arise from improper work methods and improperly designed workstations, tools, and equipment.

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Who do I contact if I want an ergonomic evaluation performed on my workspace?

A request from your physician is required for Environmental Health and Safety to conduct an ergonomic evaluation of an employee's workstation. Once the employee has received a physician’s recommendation please complete the online training. To take your Ergonomic Training through the online modules, please use the following instructions:

  • Enter the EHSA Online Training Module (ehsa.uchicago.edu/training);
  • Click on the “Due Date" column twice to ensure the required or overdue courses are brought up to the top of the list; and
  • Click on the "Select" icon next to training you would like to complete and your course will begin.

Upon completing the above process, contact the Environmental Health and Safety at 773.702.9999 to request an ergonomic evaluation or send an email to safety@uchicago.edu.

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I am renovating my area and purchasing new furniture, can someone review the furniture?

Yes, but it is not required. A workstation outfitted with the proper furniture and equipment can lead to a more comfortable and safer work environment. Ergonomic injuries occur at workstations due to reaching, bending, awkward postures and applying pressure or force. If workstations are designed properly, most ergonomic hazards can be reduced if not eliminated.

Prior to purchasing furniture or workstation equipment due to renovations of existing space or new construction, Environmental Health and Safety can be consulted to have the specifications reviewed and to provide guidance, but it is not required.The final approval and purchasing of office equipment is the department’s responsibility.

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What are the basic guidelines for setting up a computer workstation correctly?

Workstations that include video display terminals (VDTs) should be ergonomically designed for both computer and non-computer work. VDT workstations should be adjustable so users can easily change their working postures and equipped with the following:

  • Adjustable and detachable keyboards;
  • Display screens that tilt up and down;
  • Brightness and contrast controls;
  • Flexible copy-holders that reduce the distance between the screen and source material; and
  • Proper lighting and anti-glare filters should be installed to prevent glare from the VDT screen. VDTs should be placed in the workspace in such a way as to minimize or diminish glare.

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What are the basic criteria for an ergonomically designed chair?

Adjustability: the most basic criteria for an ergonomically designed chair is the ability to adjust the height, armrests, backrests, and seat pans. When an employee spends six to eight hours in the chair, the height of the chair and the work surface are critical. The human body dimension that provides a starting point for determining correct chair height is the “popliteal” height. This is the height from the floor to the crease behind the knee. The chair height is correct when the entire sole of the foot can rest on the floor or a footrest and the back of the knee is slightly higher than the seat of the chair. This allows the blood to circulate freely in the legs and feet.

Armrests: Armrests should be large enough to support most of the lower arms but small enough so they do not interfere with chair positioning. Armrests should support your lower arms and allow your upper arms to remain close to the torso and made of soft material and have rounded edges.

Backrests: Backrests should support the entire back including the lower region. The seat and backrest of the chair should support comfortable postures that permit frequent variations in the sitting position. The backrest angle should be adjustable but lock into place or have a tension adjustment.

Seats: Seat pans should be height adjustable and have a user adjustment for tilt. Note: “users adjustment for tilt” is defined as any method of activation the movement of the seat pan/backrest. This can be either through the use of manual devices (e.g. levers, knobs, adjustments) or by movement of the body/body weight. Seat pans should be padded and have a rounded, “waterfall” edge, wide enough to accommodate the majority of hip sizes.

Base: Chairs should have a strong, five-legged base and casters that are appropriate for the type of flooring at the workstation.

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