Story & photo by Geneve N. Mankel, Public Affairs
Ergonomic processes, training and equipment can help prevent fatigue,
discomfort, pain and injury for workers.
“Ergonomics is about fitting the workplace to the worker,” said Deb
Heise-Clark, ergonomics specialist with the Fort McCoy Installation
Safety Office (ISO). “Adjustability in equipment is key because everyone
is built differently.”
Ergonomic equipment, such as chairs, desks, monitors and keyboard trays,
is adjustable. The problem is people don’t always know how adjustable
the equipment is or how to adjust it correctly, Heise-Clark said.
Deb Heise-Clark, ergonomics
specialist at the Installation Safety Office, shows James N.
Markgraf, a paralegal specialist at the Installation Legal
Office, how to adjust the ergonomic chair on loan to him from
the Safety Office. The Safety Office has ergonomic chairs
garrison employees can “test drive” prior to purchasing their
Heise-Clark said she is available to offer workstation
assessments for garrison personnel.
“The assessments usually take about 30-45 minutes,” she said. “I’ll
have workers do the things they do on a daily basis, watch their
movements and adjust things around to better fit their workplace to
Heise-Clark said personnel should go through supervisory channels to
approve workstation assessments. This can allow multiple assessments
to be arranged and if approved, purchasing of equipment can be
Liane Haun, Directorate of Public Works (DPW) Master Planning
Division chief, said a number of employees had lower back pain and
requested new chairs. Before purchasing any new equipment,
Heise-Clark conducted assessments to determine what type of chair
each employee needed or if only a lumbar support was needed to
“These assessments were important to our directorate as we were able
to correct the employee’s discomfort, while saving government funds
from being used when not needed,” Haun said.
Katie Schindler, DPW management support assistant, had constant pain
in her back and shoulders.
There is no single correct working
position or equipment.
Because everyone is built differently, when setting up an
ergonomic workstation basic guidelines should be considered. Deb
Heise-Clark, the ergonomics specialist with the Fort McCoy
Installation Safety Office, had the following tips to make work
stations ergonomics friendly:
Monitor – Position directly in front of the user with a
20-40 inch viewing distance. The top of the monitor should be at
or slightly below eye level. A monitor arm can be installed to
adjust the viewing distance and angle.
Keyboard – Place at a height that allows for a neutral
body posture and at a distance that allows elbows to stay close
to the torso with forearms parallel with the floor. The keyboard
should not be placed at an angle that causes wrists to bend
upwards. Keyboards with split keys and palm rests help to keep
hands and wrists in a neutral position.
Mouse – Position close to the keyboard to help maintain a
straight, neutral wrist posture. It should be designed to fit
the hand that normally will operate it. A mouse that is too big
or small can cause awkward postures and lead to overexertion.
Using shortcut keys can replace mouse tasks.
Palm rest – Hands should move freely and be elevated
above the rest while typing. When resting, the pad should
contact the palm, not the wrist.
Document holders – Position at or about the same height
and distance as the monitor.
Desk – Adjust to provide adequate clearance for legs and
allow for proper placement of computer components and
accessories. Desk risers can be used to adjust the height of a
Chair – Provide support to back, legs, buttocks and arms
while reducing awkward postures, contact stress and forceful
exertions. The backrest should conform to natural curvature of
the spine and provide lumbar support. It should be positioned at
a height that allows feet to rest on the floor or foot rest. The
seat pan should allow for a two-to-four finger gap between the
back of the knees and front edge of the seat pan. Position arm
rests to allow for a relaxed posture. Arm rests that are too
high, too low, too wide or too large can cause awkward postures
and fatiguing of neck, shoulders and back.
Lighting – Excessive illumination, bright light sources
behind a monitor and glare on the monitor screen can contribute
to vision problems. Monitors should be placed at right angles to
windows and workstations should be spaced between rows of
overhead lights if possible.
“My chair did not provide the proper support for my back
and shoulders and my monitors were at an inappropriate height and
distance,” Schindler said.
Additionally her keyboard tray did not fit her ergonomic keyboard,
causing an incorrect angle. The tray also did not accommodate room for a
mouse so Schindler had to place the mouse on the desktop, which caused
straining in her back, neck and shoulder from constantly reaching toward
Heise-Clark recommended an ergonomic chair and footrest, an articulating
keyboard tray that could support an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, a
document holder that fits between the keyboard and monitor to reduce
neck strain and repositioning monitors to correct height and angle.
The adjustments to Schindler’s workstation were made in March and began
to help immediately, she said. “I am almost pain free now that the new
equipment has been ordered and installed and I have had an opportunity
Older workstations are not always designed to accommodate today’s
equipment, Heise-Clark said. Older desks, for example, are not designed
to support computing work. If purchasing new furniture is not an option,
many accessories, such as desk risers, articulating keyboard trays and
monitor arms and corner desk sleeves, can improve the functionality of
Other simple and inexpensive fixes include using a binder filled with
paper as a foot rest, a rolled-up towel as a lumbar support, and a ream
of paper or book to adjust monitor height. Items also can be rearranged
so the most-used items are nearest to the user.
“What you use most often should be as close as possible to you,”
Heise-Clark said. This prevents having to reach repetitively for items,
which can cause pain or injury.
Sharon Schroeder, a DPW realty specialist, also recently had the ISO
assess her workstation. After having lower-back surgery Schroeder was
experiencing pain and discomfort in her upper back.
“I felt that it could be corrected by an assessment adjustment to my
workspace,” she said.
Heise-Clark suggested starting with an adjustable chair that would allow
for better posture and discourage bad habits, such as leaning forward
toward her monitor, and leaning to one side while viewing data on the
Ergonomic desk chairs are an example of office equipment that often is
not adjusted correctly, Heise-Clark said. Ergonomic chairs are fully
adjustable for height and many have fully-adjustable backs, arm rests
and seat pans.
“She also suggested a foot rest, which discourages me from leaning
forward and helps correct my posture,” Schroeder said. “I also stand and
In addition to assessments, the ISO, building 1678, has a variety of
office equipment personnel can “test-drive” prior to making a purchase.
The equipment includes multiple types of chairs, and an ergonomic
workstation with an adjustable monitor arm, ergonomic keyboard tray and
Schroeder says she is more comfortable while working and feels she was
provided with good information that helps her recognize when she is
falling back into bad habits.
Sarah Morrow, DPW Business Operation and Integration Division chief,
said that by working cooperatively with the Safety Office on the
ergonomic assessments several thousand dollars likely has been saved by
avoiding workplace injuries.
Ergonomic injuries generally occur because of repetitive physical
movements and unnatural postures that put stress on ligaments, joints,
muscles, nerves and tendons, Heise-Clark said.
Symptoms can include painful joints; pain tingling or numbness in hands
or feet; shooting pain in arms or legs, and back or neck pain or
Ergonomics also should be considered in working environments other than
office spaces, Heise-Clark said.
Warehouse and retail personnel, for example, should use step stools when
stocking shelves to avoid repetitive reaching. Maintenance personnel
should use tools that have a power grip, which allows the wrist to stay
in a neutral position. Personnel who drive or sit for extended periods
of time should remove items, such as wallets, from back pants pockets to
allow for a more-ergonomic sitting posture.
Ergonomics also can be applied at home. Examples include using knee pads
when laying a new floor or working in a garden, alternating hand
positions when shoveling and raking, pushing not pulling lawn mowers or
carts, and using both the right and left hand when cleaning.
Heise-Clark’s favorite example is avoiding trigger finger by not
overusing video game controllers.
Injuries that occur outside of the workplace may also cause the need to
adjust the workstation at work.
For more information about ergonomics or to set up a workstation
assessment, garrison personnel can call Heise-Clark at 608-388-3403.
Tenant personnel with questions about ergonomics should contact their