Computer Equipment for the Office: What does "Ergonomic" Really Mean?

Shopping for computer products can be a challenging experience for many users and individuals who are responsible for conducting in-house ergonomic office assessments. Many items at local computer/office supply stores have the word “Ergonomic” or “Ergonomically friendly” on the package but determining what that really means and what products are right for specific concerns is difficult. The reality is that the word ergonomic doesn’t necessarily mean the product is the best solution for an employee’s needs.

The goal of the following section is to highlight some of the commonly available office products and outline situations when you might consider recommending them.

Mice

Trackball

The trackball mouse is used in a stationary position; the user rolls their fingers or thumb over the ball to move the cursor on the screen. This mouse is most suited for individuals who are struggling with shoulder and/or wrist discomfort as it minimizes aggravating movements at both joints.

Touchpad

The touchpad mouse allows the users’ fingers to be used to move the cursor on the screen. This of mouse eliminates the need for gripping/handling as well as the need to manually move the mouse. Reducing gripping and handling can be beneficial for hand/wrist and carpal tunnel discomfort. Similar to a trackball mouse, the stationary touchpad reduces the likelihood of shoulder discomfort caused by moving the mouse around on the desktop/keyboard tray.

Roller Mouse/Mousetrap

In this unique approach to mouse design the mouse sits in front of the keyboard and the user rolls their fingers over a bar or net structure to move the cursor on the screen. This design minimizes reaching to the mouse as it places the device directly at the fingertips while allowing the user to comfortably position themselves in front of the letters on their keyboard. The design also eliminates gripping of the mouse, and allows for ambidextrous use, decreasing unilateral movements and awkward postures. Note: This of mouse does not work with a wave style keyboard as it will not sit flush with the curved keyboard.

Keyboard

Wave Keyboard

This keyboard is most commonly referred to as an ergonomic keyboard due to its split design. A standard, straight keyboard causes the wrists to deviate (bending to side) whereas this keyboard allows users to approach the alphabet component of the keyboard with straight wrists. Individuals who are experiencing wrist and/or elbow discomfort may benefit from this style; however, it is typically larger than a standard keyboard and may not fit on all sizes and styles of keyboard trays. It can also be more problematic for individuals who mouse on the right side as there is often an increased reach distance to access the mouse.

Split Keyboard

A split keyboard can be split into two pieces, each positioned separately on the desktop. This keyboard may also offer a tenting feature which allows the user to angle the keypad into a vertical position. Similar to the wave keyboard, these can be adjusted to effectively neutralize deviated wrist and improve elbow postures. They can also be helpful for individuals with broader shoulders that find working in the centre of their body awkward. The separated pieces create a wider keyboard which allows users to type directly in line with their shoulder, elbow and wrist. Note: These keyboards often do not have a number pad (or have an embedded number pad); a separate number pad can be purchased if needed.

Left-hand Keyboard & Keyboards without Numeric pads

The left-handed keyboard and a keyboard without a number pad have a similar purpose which is to reduce reaching to the right side to access the mouse. When mousing on the right computer users often position themselves in front of the alphabet on a standard keyboard, which is shifted to the left side of the working area. This causes them to reach over the arrow keys and number pad to access the mouse (increasing reach distances up to minimum of 6 inches). By removing the numeric pad or positioning it on the left side, the right-handed mouser is actually the person most benefitted by this of keyboard. This style is most suited for individuals who have right shoulder discomfort, mouse on the right side and/or do not use the number pad often as it allows the shoulders to be aligned and the user to be centered with their workspace.

When it comes to shopping for office ergonomic products, be an educated consumer. You should ask yourself several important questions when purchasing, including:

  • How is this product different from others on the market?
  • How will this product change the way the user will interact with their equipment?
  • What discomfort or symptoms might this product work to correct?
  • Are there any drawbacks to using this product?

As with any new set up, remember change takes time. An average of 21 days is estimated to master a new device. Be sure to educate employees on how to properly use and set up each item. Although the product may be exactly the right choice from an ergonomic standpoint, if the user hasn’t been educated they may find it frustrating to use, use it incorrectly or simply not use it at all.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of the OOHNA newsletter.

© Copyright 2018 - PROergonomics