According to Ronda Crenshaw, director of the Humanscale National Ergonomic Group, the chair is the first priority to consider in creating a healthy workstation. Task chairs should not only offer proper reclining support, but should provide good body fit for the user.
Here are four criteria for designers to consider:
1. Realize the importance of the seat height. Ideally, the seat height should be set so that the user's feet rest comfortably on the floor while the upper body is high enough so that work can be done comfortably at the desk. Placing a height-adjustable footrest under the desk will give petite workers proper support for their feet and legs.
2. A second, somewhat common size adjustment is seat depth. The primary concern with seat depth is to provide a maximum amount of surface area on which to distribute the body weight, while being certain that the delicate area behind the knee is kept clear of potential contact stresses, such as pressure from the front of the seat. As a general rule, when the user is sitting with her or his back properly supported by the backrest, there should be approximately two to four inches of space between the front of the seat cushion and the back of the knee.
3. A third, less common size adjustment is backrest height. As with seat depth, the idea of adjustable backrests is to maximize surface contact and minimize pressure points. While the curvature of the back – particularly the curvature of the lumbar area of the spine – varies from person to person, it's the position of the curvature that matters most. Therefore, a contoured and height-adjustable backrest can offer exceptional lumbar support while maximizing surface contact and weight distribution.
4. Armrests should be adjustable and kept level. Most chairs today offer adjustable armrests, which are critical because different tasks and different sized users require different armrest positions. However, since most of these chairs have independently adjustable armrests, users are free to set the right and left arms at different heights. Unfortunately, a common choice is to keep the armrest on the mousing side lower than the other armrest; such users will sit, potentially for years, with a crooked spine.
The second workstation-related concern to consider is the keyboard and mouse.
The position of the keyboard is more important than its shape. While "ergonomic" keyboards (for example, those with curved layouts or split designs) can help keep a user's wrists in safer postures, they can also create other problems, such as shoulder abduction (elbows moving away from the sides of the body). Think of the hand and arm as a chain – what happens at one end affects the other. A safe posture at one end of the chain does not guarantee the same benefit at the other end. So, keyboard design alone is not necessarily the answer.
To minimize risk from injury, first, remove the keyboard from the desktop and place it on a platform below desk level. This will help eliminate contact stress at the wrists and reduce forward reaching.
The second critical step is to angle the keyboard slightly away from the user in what is referred to as a "negative slope." The lowered keyboard height, combined with the negative tilt, will allow the user's wrists to remain straight (in a "neutral position") and their elbows to open up. The best way to achieve this desired keyboard position is with the use of an articulating keyboard holder with negative tilt adjustability.
Now, let's locate the monitor and document placement.
As technology advances, a growing number of home offices are being outfitted with flat-panel monitors. The beauty of flat-panel monitors is the space-savings they allow – if mounted on an adjustable arm.If a flat-panel monitor is simply placed on the desktop, not only will all the space savings be behind the monitor, but the user will likely end up with a monitor sitting lower than recommended.
Attaching the flat-panel monitor to an adjustable monitor arm allows the user to customize the height and depth of the monitor for optimal viewing, while he or she is also able to move the monitor out of the way when more desk space for writing or referencing documents is beneficial.
A flat-panel monitor on an adjustable arm thus provides both ergonomic and space-saving benefits.
SPECIFIC NEEDS planning
After kitchen specialists have familiarized themselves with equipment and have learned about the ergonomic considerations commercial designers take into account, attention can be returned to planning storage for home-based activities.
Questions we've asked for years are still valued and deal with paper. If the new office space is also the family message center, the household management and communication needs must be built into the space.
Alternatively, if the two spaces will remain separate, the designer must make sure all tasks are assigned to either the family message center or to the home office.
Here's a starter list of common tasks people will perform:
---Working with, handling and storing menus, shopping lists, cookbooks, cooking DVDs or VCR tapes.
---Posting family messages, household duty and activity schedules.
---Taking care of family accounting matters.
---Correspondence, mail and the like.
In today's world, many of these activities will inevitably be handled online. The family's address book, for example, may have been replaced by a Palm Pilot. However, designers should not make assumptions. It's far better to ask questions regarding these typical activities. What goes on at the desk? Do the family members still work with "paper" or do they have more of an electronically based household management system?
Regarding menu planning and recipe retrieval, it's quite possible that the availability of wireless technology and the affordability of flat-screen monitors and televisions will finally allow a cook to store recipes on the computer and then project it on a screen in the kitchen to be readable at several workstations. Kitchen designers need to start thinking through how and where we're going to place these large screens.
Author's Note: Sources referred to in this article include "Setting Up the Workstation for Good Upper-Body Ergonomics" (Interiors & Sources, January, 2004, Dr. Mark Vettraino, director, Task Group International) and "Ergonomics 101: Creating a Healthy Workstation" (Interiors & Sources, October, 2004, Ronda Crenshaw, director of Humanscale National Ergonomic Group).