These aches and pains can even develop into occupational injuries such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and other cumulative trauma disorders.

Minimize these risks by applying the basics of office ergonomics at your desk.

'Office ergonomics means designing the work environment to match workers' needs and to avoid awkward working postures,' says Steve Morrissey, a full-time ergonomist with the Department of Consumer and Business Services, Occupational Safety and Health Division.

A properly adjusted workstation can help you achieve the goal of spending most of your time in a relaxed working posture, also known as a neutral body position.

Start with the chair, one of the fundamental workstation components. It should be easy to adjust: seat height, back height, seat tilt, back tilt.

When the chair is adjusted correctly, the feet should rest flat on the floor or a footrest, and the lower back should be supported.

Thighs and forearms should be parallel to the floor. The elbows should stay close to the body, supported lightly by adjustable armrests.

Desks, too, should be adjustable, so that the height of the work surface can suit the user. The height should be such that wrists are flat, not extended up or down.

If the desk itself cannot be adjusted, a keyboard tray may be necessary.

The width of the desk also is important. If it is too shallow, you will be sitting closer to the computer monitor than is desirable.

Oregon OSHA suggests that rectangular work surfaces be a minimum of 30 inches deep if used with 17-inch or smaller monitors (40 inches should be the minimum for corner desks with the same size monitor).

The computer screen should be roughly an arm's length from your body. You should not feel like you have to pull your head back from the screen, or need to lean in toward it. Rather, the head should be kept in line with the torso.

Placing your monitor at eye level will keep you from straining your neck to look up at the screen.

In addition to major components like chairs and desks, office 'props' such as document holders also can make your desk more comfortable.

For example, anyone who spends a significant amount of time on the phone should invest in a headset, rather than holding the phone with the shoulder.

'There is no excuse for not using a headset anymore,' Morrissey says.

No matter how well your workstation is organized, you should still take frequent breaks.

Morrissey suggests that for every 55 minutes to 60 minutes of heavy work, take a five-minute break.

Stand up, look around, do some light stretches. Your eyes will have a chance to refocus, and the body's circulation will improve.

Morrissey emphasizes that taking periodic breaks is one of the easiest and most valuable steps you can take.

'I have not been in a single work environment, outside of medical operations, where you cannot do that.'

Brochures about office ergonomics are available to the public at Oregon OSHA, 1750 N.W. Naito Parkway, Suite 112.

Oregon OSHA also offers free, non-regulatory ergonomic consultations for Oregon employers of any size. Call 503-229-6193 for details.

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