EVCP Expresso recommends UCSF Ergonomics

Better Body Language: Tips from the UCSF Ergonomics and Human Factors Program

Did you have an elder in your life who always told you to sit up straight? I’ve been hearing that little voice a lot these days as I’ve been working from home since March.

In the telework story this past July, I mentioned the importance of a good ergonomic setup wherever you’re working. I can’t emphasize that enough, but don’t just take my word for it. Listen to the experts and look into the resources posted on the UCSF coronavirus resource site.

Kristin Amlie is the principal ergonomist and manager of UCSF’s Ergonomics and Human Factors Program, and Kaytlin Ingman is the program’s support specialist. They can’t make individual house calls to check on everyone’s work configuration, but they have an extensive ergonomics website that offers tips and guidance on making sure you are safe and well-equipped. Sign up for one of their webinars or request one for your department. You can also watch the archived version along with completing a free self-evaluation. If nothing else, look at their streamlined, two-page tip sheet and use it to evaluate your own habits, work situation, and work space as well as do-it-yourself solutions to address work-from-home ergonomic configurations. It will take you less than a minute to at least see whether you’re taking care of yourself ergonomically.

Aside from the physical aspects of correct ergonomics – like good posture and the right desk – Kaytlin says, “There are emerging psychosocial risk factors and cognitive ergonomic concerns trending more and more. If you go from one Zoom meeting to another after another, that’s more of a cognitive load.” In those meetings you probably don’t want to move around a lot, even though that’s good for you, because it would distract others. Instead, you are focused intently on your screen, which begins to affect your health and well-being. One tip they offer to that end, which the ergonomists themselves practice, is “video-free Fridays,” but if setting aside a full day is unfeasible, maybe reserve an hour or two midday in which you’ll stay off of video meetings and just give yourself a break. Every little bit helps.

Of course, office setup is important. One huge piece of advice in this department: Don’t do all your work on a laptop alone! These computers are horribly misnamed. No one should have one sitting on their lap. Indeed, you need your screen at eye level and your keyboard and mouse at elbow height. You can accomplish this with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, or you can get a laptop stand (so you don’t need a separate monitor), or even place it on a stack of books. The laptop “is really for convenience and travel, for portability,” Kaytlin says. “It isn’t designed for safety. When I go to a café, I have a laptop riser, a compact keyboard, and an external mouse,” she adds. “I might be the only one in there with all of that, but I assure you, I’m a lot more comfortable.”

Setting up an actual sit-stand desk is ideal, but there are workarounds like using an ironing board or high countertop. Also, there are best practices to adopt such as sitting for 20 minutes, standing for eight minutes, and moving around for two minutes. (That’s a guideline, Kristin notes; an alternative would be just getting up each hour to walk around.) It’s really important to pay attention to what your body is telling you and act on that. We spend so much time sitting that any movement or standing is good – like standing or pacing while on the phone or in a Zoom session (just remember to turn off the video function).

Some folks can bring equipment home from UCSF to improve their setup; just check with your manager first. The ergonomists endorse bringing equipment home, if possible. They recognize that UCSF is trying to be financially efficient, and don’t want us – or you – to overspend during these challenging economic times. “People might be hesitant to ask for necessary items,” Kristin says. “But the fact is that employees need certain equipment in order to work safely at home, especially for the long haul.” And, should you need to purchase something (on the University’s dime or your own), the ergonomics site has a list of recommended equipment, from chairs and desks to keyboards and mice, to lighting and sound.

Finally, the ergonomists are collaborating with both the remote work task force – so important! – and with the IT department to keep us safe during these unprecedented times. Their hope is that someone in each department, whether supervisor or staff, learn the ergonomic ropes and then spread the word about the resources. Ideally, departments should appoint an ergonomic coordinator who can act as a liaison with the ergonomists. “It is a supervisor’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees, and it’s the employees’ responsibility to work safely, so it’s a partnership,” Kristin says.

I hope you will avail yourself of this invaluable resource and connect with the Ergonomics & Human Factors Program to promote a safe and healthy work environment that works for you!

— Dan Lowenstein, Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost