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Creating healthy and safe computer work

It’s important to think about all aspects of how you work on your computer to stay safe and healthy––no matter where you are working.This means thinking about your equipment, the area where you work, your work activities and your own characteristics such as your height and eyesight needs.

Your workstation setup can help reduce the chance of musculoskeletal injuries, neck and back pain and chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It should support you to have a good posture and to change your posture often. This page has some tips and advice about how to get your office space to work for you.

1. Selecting and adjusting your chair

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Transcript

How to select and use a chair

The relationship with your workstation is important, especially with your chair.

You sit together every day, it provides you support and comfort, and it’s willing to change its ways to be the perfect partner for you.

People come in all shapes and sizes and there’s no standard chair that will fit everyone.

There are chairs for small workers, tall workers, and everyone in-between.

Big Guy: “Ah Better!”

The seat pan length and width, the backrest height and lumbar support are features that need to fit every worker.

It’s common that people don’t know how to operate their chair.

First, you should adjust the height of your chair to your working surface, so your elbows are at desk level and your forearms can relax onto the surface to take the load off your neck and shoulders.

Then check that your back is supported. Sit back into your chair and move the backrest up and down to fit the curve of the backrest into your lower back curve.

For most people, a comfortable hip and back position is a hip angle of approximately 100 to 120 degrees. Use the backrest tilt paddle to angle your backrest forwards and backward to find your comfortable position.

Use a footrest if your feet don’t reach the ground, to help support your legs and back.

Bring your chair as close as possible to the desk so that you’re not over-reaching to your keyboard and mouse.

Remove your chair’s arm rests if you can’t get close enough.

Now you know how to operate your chair, make sure you know how to set up your workstation and stay active.

For more info visit worksafe.qld.gov.au and look out for more videos in this series.

Selecting the right chair for you is the first step in setting up your workstation.

Tips for choosing office chairs

If you need to purchase or replace chairs for the office, a good chair for using a computer should have:

  • adjustment controls that are easy to operate while you’re sitting
  • a load rating suitable for your body weight
  • a backrest with a curved lumbar support that can be adjusted to fit into the curve of your lower back
  • a backrest that can tilt forwards and backwards
  • an adjustment for seat height
  • an adjustment to tilt the seat pan
  • a seat with a rounded front edge
  • a five-point caster base.

Armrests can support your forearms when using the keyboard and mouse or help you to lower or raise yourself from your chair. However, armrests should be removable and adjustable to allow you to get in as close to your desk as possible.

Tips for adjusting your chair

  • The first step is to adjust the height of your chair so that your elbows are level with the desk surface. This gives you forearm support and relaxed shoulders when you’re using the keyboard and mouse.
  • Use a footrest if need one to put your feet flat on the floor.
  • Adjust the height of your backrest so that the lumbar support fits into the curve of your lower back.
  • Tilt the backrest support so that you can relax back into the chair with a hip angle between 100 and 120 degrees.
  • Bring the chair in close to the desk so that your forearms are well supported on the desk and your back stays supported on the backrest i.e. no leaning or perching off the backrest. Remove armrests if they stop you from getting close enough to your desk.

You can also find more information in our Ergonomic guide to computer-based workstations(PDF, 934.14 KB) .

2. Setting up your workstation

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Transcript

How to set up your workstation

When you spend so much time at work, you want to feel comfortable and we don’t mean just in the lift.

The most common case of poor posture at a computer workstation is known as ‘Turtling’ - sitting forward with a hunched back, bent neck and poked out chin.

Bad posture can lead to injury and pain but can be fixed by making sure your workstation is set up right for you.

Dock your laptop and have a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse if you’re using mobile computers in the office.

Adjust the height of your chair to suit your desk.

Set monitor height to your eye level or just below and about arms distance away. This might vary if you wear glasses. Adjust display brightness, contrast and font size to reduce visual fatigue.

If you use two screens equally, position them symmetrically in front of you.

Keep your arms by your side when using your mouse and keyboard. The keyboard and mouse should be on the same level and directly in front of you, 10 to 15 centimetres away from the edge of the desk. Keep the mouse parallel and close to the keyboard.

If you have a sit stand desk, make sure you use it! It’s an easy way to get out of your chair which is good for your back and legs. Varying your posture is the key. Our bodies aren’t made to spend long times in any one position.

When you’re standing, set up your workstation the same way as when you are sitting.

If you’re moving from sitting to standing, you may need to make some small re-adjustments like the monitor heightand make sure to wear comfortable shoes!

Now you know how to set up your workstation, make sure you know how to select and use your chair and stay active.

For more info visit worksafe.qld.gov.au and look out for more videos in this series.

The right chair is only one part of creating a good workstation setup. Other elements include your desk, computer, monitors, mouse, keyboard, lighting, headset and footrest.

Tips for setting up your workstation

  • If you’re working for long periods of time from a laptop or tablet, you should, ideally, use a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse. This will help your posture and visual comfort.
  • Set the monitor height to your eye level or below, depending on what type of glasses you wear. If you don’t have a monitor available, raise your laptop on a riser,stand, or another stable item such as reams of paper or large hardcover books.
  • Ideally, set up your monitor distance at about an arm’s length from where you're sitting. You can adjust the distance depending on the size of the monitor screen and what’s comfortable for your eyes.
  • If you use two or more monitors equally throughout the day, position yourself and your keyboard at equal distance to both screens so you don’t have to twist your neck and spine. Also make sure the monitors are both at the same level.
  • Put your keyboard and mouse on a flat surface, directly in front of you about 10 to 15cms from the edge of the desk. This provides you with forearm shoulder and neck support. Keep your mouse next to and parallel to the keyboard as much as possible. This will reduce shoulder discomfort. Different keyboards and mouse designs can be more comfortable and useful for different workers. Please see Ergonomic guide to computer-based workstations(PDF, 934.14 KB) for more info.
  • After adjusting your chair, use a footrest if your feet can’t comfortably sit flat on the floor. Check its height so your hips and knees are level.It should be stable and large enough to comfortably rest both feet and sloped for ankle comfort.
  • Wireless headsets and earphones allow you work on your computer during phone calls easily. They also allow you to stand up and move around during and between phone and video calls. Use an angled document holder if you often do tasks involve significant reading or writing from hard copy documents.

Tips for choosing a desk

Some basic features you need to look out for with your desk are:

  • The desk surface should allow you to have your keyboard, mouse and writing needs all on the same level.
  • A sitting desk should be about 680–720mm high and, if height adjustable,up to 1200mm.
  • A desk depth of 800mm will allow you to correctly position your monitors and have a comfortable amount of leg room.
  • You should have clear space under the desk to comfortably stretch out your legs and avoid sharp desk corners.

Sit/stand desks

Using a sit/stand desk is a simple way to change postures when you’re doing computer work.Getting out of your chair and moving regularly is important to avoid aches and pains and to improve your health and wellbeing.

There are different types of units:

  • A full desk unit, where the whole desktop can be raised or lowered, is generally easier to use.
  • A tabletop unit, which is a separate unit placed on top of a normal fixed desk, is usually cheaper and quicker to install. However, some issues with tabletop units include:
    • limited space for desk top items and work activities
    • not enough space and stability to rest your forearms in front of the keyboard
    • not suitable for taller workers who require greater desktop depth
    • cords being caught in the height adjustment mechanism.

Tips for selecting sit/stand desks

  • The desktop should be able to rise to at least 1200mm to suit taller workers.
  • The design of the sit/stand desk should be able to accommodate all required equipment e.g. two monitors, a keyboard and a place to write.
  • You should consider how awkward and how much effort is required to move manually operated desks or units along with all usual desktop items.

There is no evidence that anti-fatigue mats make you more comfortable than wearing suitable footwear. They can also be a manual handling and trip hazard.

Tips for using a sit to stand up desk

  • When moving your desktop to a standing position, make sure it is at the same level as your elbow so that your forearms are supported.
  • When you move from sit to stand you may need to adjust your monitor height.
  • Aim to change your posture every 30 minutes.Standing for a long time can also cause problems.
  • Have a safe place for your chair when you’re standing up, so others don’t trip on it.
  • If you’re pregnant, or have a pre-existing musculoskeletal problem, moderate your sitting and standing times to suit yourself.
  • Wear low-heeled or flat, supportive shoes when standing.

You can also find more information in our Ergonomic guide to computer-based workstations(PDF, 934.14 KB) .

3. Visual comfort for computer work

Using digital devices can contribute to visual fatigue and discomfort such as headaches and sore eyes. You may also find yourself in more awkward postures so you can properly see your work. This can lead to neck pain and injury.

Your eyes need to work harder if:

  • the screen is too close or too far
  • you’re working in poor lighting
  • there’s excessive glare, which is commonly due to light shining directly into your eyes or reflected from other surfaces such as the screen, desktop or walls
  • you need to see fine details
  • you need maintain focus for long periods.

Tips to help visual problems

  • Lighting should let you comfortably see your work tasks through different times of your work shift.
  • Test your vision regularly if you are having any visual difficulties.
  • Make sure your eye wear is up to date and suitable for working at the computer.
  • Check that your monitor brightness, contrast and font size is adjusted for your visual comfort.
  • Use a light-coloured background on the display.
  • Clean your screens regularly.
  • Minimise tilting the screen to reduce potential glare or reflection.
  • Look at objects further away from time to time and take regular breaks away from your screen so your eyes can refocus and moisten back to normal.

Tips for improving lighting and minimising glare and reflection

  • Move your computer workstation or change your lighting so there is minimal amount of glare on equipment and work surface, and:
    • avoid having windows in front or behind where you are seated
    • avoid sitting directly below overhead lighting.
  • Replace lighting with suitable level of brightness and colour. Lighting levels need to be higher if you are doing finer detailed work. Under the recommended lighting levels(PDF, 712.55 KB) , most computer work requires ordinary levels of lighting.
  • Clean and maintain light fittings regularly.
  • Use task lighting for additional light over your work area. Check that the design and position of any task lighting does not shine into your eyes and create extra glare.
  • Control lighting, glare and reflections with adjustable window coverings e.g. blinds or shutters. If you are able, angle light upwards rather than downwards.
  • Minimise work surfaces and office fittings that increase glare and reflection e.g. white desks, shiny surfaces and full-length windows.

4. Working from home

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Transcript

How to work from home on your computer

Your home office is still a workplace, so make sure you work with your employer to eliminate or reduce health and safety risks.

Like your usual office, it’s important to have your chair and computer set up to suit you.

Use a separate monitor rather than your laptop or tablet screen to reduce neck pain and visual fatigue. Position your screen to eye height or just below and move it to a comfortable viewing distance.

If you don’t have a separate monitor, raise your laptop to a height that is comfortable for your neck and spine, at eye height or just below is comfortable for most people, but this may vary if you wear glasses.

Use a laptop riser or stand. If you don’t have one, use reams of paper or a stack of books as a stable base.

A separate keyboard and mouse is ideal - You’ll need them if you raise your laptop.

It might be noisy at home. Headsets or ear buds are useful when you’re talking on the phone or during video meetings. They’re also handy if you need to write, type or get your steps up.

You can feel isolated when you’re working from home, so it’s important to keep in touch regularly with your workmates.

Keep your work routine as best you can, set boundaries, take breaks and get out of your chair regularly.

Signal the start of your work day by setting up your equipment and move, pack-away or cover it at the end of the day.

Working from home can be rewarding, with more time for family, your own health and hobbies.

For more info visit worksafe.qld.gov.au and look out for more videos in this series.

Computer work is the most common activity when working from home. It’s important for workers and employers to work together to identify risks and have things in place to reduce them when working from home. You can find more information about how to manage risks and responsibilities when working from home.

5. Mobile computer work

Working on the road or out of the office presents more challenges to keep safe postures. Trains, cars, hotels, cafes, libraries or client sites are not ideal places for you to work for long periods of time on your device. Even occasional mobile computer work can still create pain and injury, especially in your shoulder, neck, back and wrist.

Tips for improving your comfort and safety for mobile computer work

  • Find out before arriving at your location if you can sit and work at a table and a chair, ideally adjustable, with good back support. Think about booking places such as co-working office space, libraries or hot desking at client sites. Take only portable gear that you need, such as:
    • a folding, lightweight laptop riser to raise your screen height
    • a separate compact keyboard and wireless mouse
    • earbuds to allow you to move around when on a phone or video call.
  • When you’re out on location, rather than working from your car, find a flat surface that is suitable to set up and a chair with a backrest.
  • For a better setup when using your device:
    • raise your laptop screen higher with books or firm pillows
    • use a rolled towel or jumper in the small of your back for lumbar support
    • sit on a folded towel if the table is too high for you
    • rest your feet on a backpack or rolled towels to support your feet
    • reduce eye strain by keeping your screen clean
    • adjust screen brightness, contrast and font size
    • move your screen to avoid working with sunlight or glare directly on it.
  • Reduce time using your keyboard by:
    • using voice to text recognition or voice activated software e.g. dictate content and then edit using keyboard
    • using voice commands
    • using shortcuts or hot keys
    • only do essential computer work when on the road
    • think about how you can do work without typing e.g. making phone calls instead of emails
    • using a stylus pen and touchscreen for data entry when working on site e.g. when you’re doing inventory checks.
  • As a mobile worker, simply carrying your equipment around can be an issue that leads to pain and injury.Use equipment that is easy to pack and carry and have a suitable backpack or pull-along bag to carry your gear.
  • Sitting for too long is not good for anyone, particularly when you’re not working in an ideal setup. It’s important to take frequent breaks and change your posture as much as possible. Depending on what you are doing and how hunched over you are, a break at least every 30 minutes can help manage your posture, visual, mental and physical fatigue. Vary your posture as much as you can e.g.standing up when making phone calls.

Tips for buying equipment for mobile use

  • Choose equipment that suits your stature:
    • Taller workers need to make sure the laptop riser will adjust high enough so they can be in an upright posture and meet their visual needs.
    • Workers with larger hands may find a larger mouse will be more comfortable and less effort to use.
    • Shorter workers using a wide keyboard might have shoulder discomfort on their mouse arm.A compact keyboard may be better.
  • Choose equipment that is easy to pack and carry. Consider:
    • the weight of the items i.e. laptop compared to tablet or notebook
    • the weight of the battery
    • how portable or collapsible it is i.e. if it fits into your bag
    • the length of the equipment e.g. short or compact keyboards
    • if it’s easy to set up and put away
    • using a backpack or a pull along bag––pull along bags may still need to be carried up a flight of stairs.

6. How to stay active while working on the computer

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Transcript

How to stay active with computer-based work

Computer-based work often involves long periods of sitting in the same spot, which can lead to sprain and strain injuries, obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

There’s even an increased risk of dying prematurely for people who sit for more than 11 hours a day - this includes sitting on the bus, train, or in your car getting to and from work or on the couch when you get home!

Exercising before or after work doesn’t protect you from these health risks if you spend most of your day sitting.

A healthy workplace encourages people to move more and sit less.

Redesign your office to encourage movement.

You could include sit/stand options for computer work and meetings.

Locate photocopiers, printers and bins in a central place.

Or why not redesign the office to include end of trip facilities to encourage active commuting.

Once you’ve redesigned, it’s important to educate and create a healthy culture. Encourage workers to create a routine that schedules movement throughout the day, changing sitting posture every 30 minutes.

Moving regularly will help reduce risks associated with sitting for long periods of time.

Provide workers with earphones to walk and talk.

Encourage workers to eat healthy lunches away from their desk and provide physical exercise options at the workplace.

Talk with your workers to get their ideas, and don’t forget to keep active when you’re working from home.

Now you know how to stay active, make sure you know how to set up your workstation and select and use your chair. For more info visit worksafe.qld.gov.au and look out for more videos in this series.

Working on computers often involves long periods of being sedentary at your desk. When your work requires such little movement, plan movement into your day to reduce the risk of pain and chronic diseases. Exercising before or after work doesn’t protect you from these health risks if you spend most of your day sitting.

Tips to get moving when you’re working on computers

  • Position your printer, scanner, photocopier and rubbish bin away from your desk so you need to walk to them.
  • Use your sit/stand desk to change position regularly throughout the day.
  • Use a Bluetooth/wireless headset to allow you to stand and move during phone or video calls.
  • Vary your work tasks so that you change your postures and use different parts of your body.
  • Take short regular breaks to move away from your desk and aim to change your position every 30 minutes.
  • Find more active ways to get to work and getting around in the day e.g. combine a meeting with a walk, park your car further away, get off the bus one stop earlier, use the stairs instead of the lift, go for a lunchtime walk.

You can also find more information in our Ergonomic guide to computer-based workstations(PDF, 934.14 KB) .

Last updated
25 August 2020

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