For many of us, our occupations almost entirely rely on the use of computers. Even though computers have provided great benefits to the workplace, they present ergonomic challenges.

Here are some ergonomic tips for the setup and use of single- and dual- monitor computer workstations. Remember that in ergonomics, the objective is to fit the task to the worker and not the other way around.

Single-Monitor Setup

OSHA has developed the Computer Workstations eTool to provide a quick fix for computer workstations with a single monitor. OSHA's suggestions regarding monitor use target some of the most common ergonomic issues, helping to reduce the likelihood of injury to the neck.

Positioning the monitor – Depth and height of the monitor probably are the most commonly misunderstood variables. Although the recommendations have not changed to incorporate thin monitors, the use of thin monitors allows for more flexibility and ease of adjustment. To properly position a monitor, you should:

  • Place the monitor directly in front of you.
  • Ensure the monitor is at arm's length from you (18-28 inches).
  • Position the top useable line of the monitor at a height where your neck is straight.
  • Place the monitor at eye height for people who do not wear glasses or contacts or those who have single prescription lenses, and below eye height for people who wear bi-focals, tri-focals or progressive lenses.

The purpose of these suggestions is to keep your neck in a neutral posture, reduce eye strain and maintain good visibility. This especially is important when you spend many hours each day looking at your computer screen.

Duration of use – Many hours (or even all day) spent looking at a computer monitor can take a toll on both your body and your productivity. These long periods of monitor use have the potential to cause eyestrain, which can lead to irritation, itchiness and headaches. The reason for this is that looking at a screen means your eyes maintain a constant depth of focus. To alleviate this issue:

  • Look away from your monitor every 20 minutes.
  • Focus on something at least 20 feet away.
  • Do this for at least 20 seconds.

OSHA calls this the 20/20/20 rule, for obvious reasons. The purpose of this exercise is to change the focus of your eyes, allowing the muscles in your eyes to relax and change from the otherwise constant focus.