Office safety - Frequently asked questions

This page contains frequently asked questions on office safety.

Should I be sitting all day?

No, sitting all day has been proven to be detrimental to both our musculoskeletal health and cardiovascular health. It is important to get a variety of different postures and movements into your day.

How do I do my job if I am required to sit

  • Design your work so that you have to stand up to access files and resources occasionally. Break up your day with walking to places such as the printer, lunch room and toilets. These little breaks help maintain both your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular heath.
  • Set a reminder on your computer for every 30 minutes to stand up have a stretch, and to change your posture
  • Take a walk at lunchtime
  • If you are having meeting with only one or two people and don’t need paper, have a walking meeting
  • Get a portable handset and walk whilst on the phone

What are the most important features of a task chair used for computer work?

  • Seat height adjustability
  • Back rest height adjustability (this is why the fixed back ‘managers’ chairs aren’t usually recommended)
  • Back rest angle adjustability (this can’t be done with the fixed back ‘managers’ chairs)
  • Swivel seat with 5 point castors for stability and ease of movement (NB: standard 4 legged chairs or chairs without this base are not suitable for use at a computer workstation)
  • Footrest that compliments the chair (if required)
  • Weight rating suitable to size of workers

Useful extras (ie. those which are not critical but can help) include:

  • Seat base angle adjustability (tilt)
  • Seat base slide (to allow for different heights of workers)
  • Adequate seat base size (ie. those with big hips and buttocks need to have a wider chair)

Arm rests are not necessary at a computer workstation and can actually increase the risk of injury for several factors:

  • Prevent workers getting close enough to desk 
  • Provide a pinch point between the desk and the arm rest 
  • Get in the way of keyboard and mouse access 
  • Encourages slouching/leaning to the side increasing pressure in the spine which can lead to damage

How much space should there be behind a desk?

To enable the user to safely use the chair, a minimum clearance behind the desk of 860 mm is recommended.
The Building Code of Australia specifies for egress from behind a desk, the recommended minimum width (between the side of the desk and the closest object) is 600 mm. For more information go to Office safety - Environmental factors

Are fitballs (also known as fitness balls, Swiss balls, gym balls or physio balls) suitable for use in an office?

Use of fitballs (also known as fitness balls, Swiss balls, gym balls or physio balls) is generally not recommended for seating in the office due to the instability of the balls.  You should consult with your medical practitioner and employer as to whether using a fitball as a seat at work is appropriate.

  • Fitballs are NOT an alternative to a properly adjustable chair.
  • Fitballs are designed as an exercise tool they are not designed as a chair.
  • Fitballs do not provided lower back support, particularly in a relaxed positions and can actually increase muscle strain
  • Fitballs do not have a stable base and therefore move around, particularly if a person is not concentrating (such as when focusing on computer work tasks) and therefore are a potential risk for falls
  • If your medical provider or therapist has recommended that you use a fitball as a temporary rehabilitation tool then it should be prescribed and fitted to the person with clear instructions on when to use it, how to use it and for how long it should be used.
  • Overall having fitballs in the office for exercises and stretching is appropriate but they are not a substitute for a properly adjusted chair.

Is there a 'safe way' of using mobile technology such as laptops, smart phones and tablets for prolonged periods?

The simple answer is NO.  Prolonged usage of computer technology requires the use of a full size keyboard and a screen located at eye height.  Unless this is possible, prolonged usage of the equipment should be minimised as far as possible, however there are strategies you can use to reduce the risk, such as having an external keyboard and mouse, and or monitor.

Does computer have any effect on pregnancy

There have been allegations of reproductive problems associated with working with computers. Reliable epidemiological studies conclude that the incidence of adverse pregnancy outcomes among computer operators is not significantly different from women who do not work with computers, so there is no firm evidence to support these allegations. Generally, exposure levels of computer operators to any radiation emissions are no different to those of other people in the community, since CRTs emit such low levels and LCDs do not emit radiation.

There is currently no evidence of risk to either male or female reproductive systems. However, some organisations have a policy of allowing pregnant women to minimise exposure to monitors during their pregnancy.

What is the relationship between computers and epilepsy?

Approximately 0.5% of the population has epilepsy. Up to 3% of them (that is, 0.015% of the total population) may be sensitive to flickering lights or certain patterns. Children are more likely to be affected than adults in this way.

The screen refresh frequency of CRT screens and of fluorescent lights is generally higher than the flicker frequency associated with this condition, so instances of this issue in offices are generally rare. LCDs should not affect epilepsy sufferers as they do not flicker.

If a person with epilepsy is starting a job involving office work, consideration should be given to the many factors that may aggravate this condition. If there is concern regarding flickering of a screen or lighting, a medical specialist should be consulted.

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