What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is understanding the interaction between people and other elements of a system. It is about applying human sciences to design and evaluate work systems, processes, environments, tasks, jobs and equipment that match human capabilities and limitations. The aim of ergonomics is to optimise comfort, wellbeing and productivity and minimise risk of physical and psychological injury.
What ergonomic services are available at UoM?
- Specialist advice related to designing safe, functional, workspaces, environments and fit outs to accommodate human variation and diversity.
- Assistance with conducting risk assessments of tasks, work systems and environments particularly related to heavy manual handling.
- Review of usability of products, equipment, systems and processes measured against standards and industry benchmarks.
- Assessment of individuals with complex musculoskeletal disorders or health conditions and identification of strategies to maximise capacity.
- Design and delivery of task-specific injury prevention training packages in line with relevant regulatory requirements and industry standards.
How can I access ergonomics services?
- Ergonomics services can be accessed by submitting a ticket through ServiceNow
- This service is available to all staff at the University of Melbourne.
Working from home
Unplanned working from home guidelines
Unplanned working from home may occur due to unforeseen circumstances. This might include a time of crisis or unexpected circumstances where opportunity for preparation and planning, including determining the suitability of the home environment, is limited.
If unplanned working from home is required, ensure you:
- Complete and comply with the Unplanned working from home self assessment checklist. This self-assessment checklist has been specifically developed to assist you to set up a temporary home-based workstation and environment to optimise your health and safety during unexpected or unplanned events.
- Complete the Working from home safely and effectively module via TrainME.
Equipment suitable for working from home may include:
- External keyboard and mouse
- Task Chair
- Docking station (for laptops)
- A portable sit/stand platform unit
- Laptop rises and footrests
It may be possible to borrow these items from your usual workplace with permission from your supervisor. Alternatively, items can be purchased at a reduced rate through the University preferred suppliers.
Pre-planned working from home guidelines
The University of Melbourne supports flexible work arrangements for its staff. For some staff this may mean an opportunity for a formal work from home arrangement.
The following steps are required to effect a pre-planned working from home agreement:
- Approval from supervisor
- Complete the Planned workstation self-assessment checklist. This checklist authorises you to evaluate your own home workstation set up and identify any requirements necessary to conduct your work safely and productively. It also requests you submit a photograph of your workstation set up and sign a declaration that you will work only within the designated work zone.
- Complete the Office Ergonomics training module via TrainME.
- Comply with the University Health and Safety Policy (MPF1205) and report any incidents via ERMS.
If you have a health condition or disability which requires specialised equipment or modifications to undertake your work at home you may require a home-based workstation assessment conducted by a third-party expert. This should be organised directly with your supervisor or your Health and Safety Business Partner and funded through your local business unit.
Employees can submit a Workplace Adjustments request form to request reasonable adjustments, as outlined in the Disability and Descrimination Act (1992) relating to a permanent or temporary disability.
It you are working from home because you (or a dependent) are recovering from a health issue, injury or surgery, assistance may be available to you and your supervisor from the University’s Human Resources or Injury Management teams.
Tips for working from home
Whatever the reason you are working from home, here are some tips to help keep you safe and healthy:
Work in the zone
- Conduct work exclusively in your designated work zone. This includes leaving your mobile phone in this zone when exiting to take breaks. Conducting work exclusively in the work zone will ensure non-work zones can be accessed without distraction
- Consider how you access other internal home zones such as the bathroom and kitchen. Aim to keep paths of travel clear. There is a potential risk of slips and trips arising from obstacles, and items left on the floor, particularly in the event young children are at home or pets are inside. Consider also zones outside the home e.g. paths or steps to the letter box, garage, clothesline, or garden which may be exposed to weather and leaf fall/other debris
- Ensure you wear appropriate, correctly fitted footwear and clothing for the environment.
Establish a routine
- Aim to consistently get up at the same time as you would if going into the workplace
- Start your day with some form of exercise, stretching or moving
- Plan your day - a daily to do list will help keep track of activities and give you a sense of accomplishment as you tick things off
- Check in with your supervisor or team at scheduled times
- Take regular lunch and tea breaks and additionally take brief rest breaks every 30 – 45 minutes, to stretch, move and relax working muscles. Irrespective of how well set up you are, how well you are managing your workload and how in control you feel, rest breaks and movement are restorative. Check out our video tips for stretching and moving can be found here
- Consider using free rest break reminder software, we recommend:
The Healthy use of laptops at home video contains some practical tips for setting up a laptop at home including tips for setting the kids up correctly too.
- Set boundaries and define work times. Leave the work zone when you are not working and switch off your computer. Not having a physical separation between home and work can leave you feeling ‘switched on’ all the time which is fatiguing
- Engage in regular exercise or healthy recreational activities. Check out the Benestar (the University’s Employee Assistance Program provider) Keeping fit while working from home tip sheet
- Take up creative hobbies that you enjoy and find relaxing. If undertaking Do-It-Yourself (DIY) home projects ensure you use the right tools and equipment for the job and wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
Purchasing furniture for home environment
When purchasing furniture for home environment use, see the Purchasing page for guidance.
Working outside of your home office
Mobile technology has revolutionised the way we work, making it relatively easy to work anywhere, anytime. Opportunities exist to conduct work in less-traditional settings such as hotel rooms, in transit, or in the home.
Working remotely requires adjustment to the way we work which can present physical and mental challenges. We may not always have access to the same type of furniture and equipment that we might have in the workplace or the same level of connectivity or digital support.
If you are undertaking field work, some of the following information may be relevant, however the main processes and guidance for these activities are found on the events and field work page.
The following general advice is directed at maximizing your postural comfort at work during pregnancy. Any specific health issues regarding your pregnancy should be discussed with your treating doctor/health practitioner.
- Back pain is common during pregnancy. The lower spine is pulled forward by the increasing weight of the baby exaggerating the lumbar curve. This can impose strain on both the back muscles and the abdominal muscles. Tailbone (coccyx) pain is often experienced
- As the girth expands the centre of gravity moves forward leading to adjustments in posture to maintain balance
- Ligaments and tendons become more relaxed due to high relaxing levels, which accommodates for the growing baby and can lead to joint pain
- Increased blood volume increases the pressure in the leg veins which may make prolonged standing difficult and uncomfortable, as well as result in some swelling
- Swelling in the arms may also be present and can cause pressure on nerves and blood vessels resulting in reduced sensation in the hand (Carpal tunnel syndrome)
Tips for improving comfort when sitting
- Sit right back into your chair with your back slightly reclined. Ensure the backrest is adjusted so it neatly fits the curve of your lower back
- Ensure your hips are slightly above your knees
- Ensure your feet are supported – either on a footrest or the floor
- Keep your feet apart to make room for your belly and distribute the weight evenly
- Avoid sitting for more than 30minutes. Get up and stretch your legs for at least 3 minutes
- Special cushions/inserts may relieve back pain*
- Use the swivel and castors to assist with movement
- Organise desktop items within close reach
- Keep the wrists as flat and aligned as possible
- A footstool with a free floating platform can improve circulation and reduce ankle swelling*
*Some of these items are available for loan by emailing the Health & Safety Services team.
Tips for improving comfort when standing
- Avoid prolonged standing in the same position. Locate a chair wherever possible
- It is common to compensate for the natural forward shift in centre of gravity by leaning backwards, however this can result in back strain and discomfort
- Aim to keep your earlobes in line with the middle of your shoulders and your hips
- Keep your knees straight but not locked
- If you notice a large curve in your lower back try wearing low heeled shoes as opposed to flat shoes
- If prolonged standing is unavoidable, an anti-fatigue mat and a small flat footrest to alternate putting feet up one at a time may provide postural relief*
- Avoid any heavy or forceful manual handling activities
Need more assistance? What can you do?
If you experience on-going discomfort or pain, please seek the advice of your treating practitioner. Your practitioner will be able to provide specialist advice and may be able to suggest stretching exercises or other solutions that will help to relieve your symptoms.
You should review your computer workstation self-assessment checklist to identify any specific issues with your working arrangements. Implement control measures in conjunction with your supervisor.
Speak to your supervisor about changing your work practices and tasks and perhaps reducing or altering the physical demands of your workload.
How can we help?
The University Ergonomist and Workstation Assessment Consultant can assist by providing an assessment of your workstation and providing advice on optimising your posture and comfort.
To request this service, ensure that you have first completed your computer workstation self-assessment checklist and spoken to your local Health and Safety Business Partner. If necessary, your Business Partner will contact the Health & Safety Services team to request an appointment to further assess your workstation.
Hazardous manual handling
Guide to manual handling hierarchy or control and a range of training videos for specific manual tasks.
- Manual handling risk assessment
- Health & Safety Action Plan
- Guide to the manual handling hierarchy of control
A range of videos have been created to assist with completing specific manual tasks.
- Fixed height desks should ideally be between 700 to 740 mm. If you are small you may need a footrest.
- Desktop dimensions should accommodate all desktop equipment. A minimum depth of 700 mm is the recommended to ensure monitor positioning for visual comfort.
- The desk thickness should be no more than 40 mm. There should not be any fixed structure under the desk that may encroach into the leg room(eg a frame, bar or drawer).
Height adjustable units placed on top of a desk or table
- Height adjustable desktop units do not always have sufficient in built height range for taller users to stand at.
- Manually height adjustable desk units should be avoided as adjusting them can involve awkward postures and exertion of force.
- Electric height adjustable units should have sufficient desktop dimensions to accommodate all equipment.
The key point is to select a task chair which fits and supports you and has the following features:
- Sufficient seat depth to provide support for the thighs
- Easily adjustable
- Lockable supportive backrest (not free floating)
- Swivel and castors (see advice below regarding floor surfaces)
For help selecting the right task chair for you, please read the chair sizing guide.
Floor surfaces and chair casters
If using a task chair fitted with nylon/plastic castors, it is important to make sure the floor surface offers the right level of castor rolling resistance when sitting.
Nylon castors are designed to be used on low profile, commercial grade carpet which offers a moderate level of rolling resistance. This means the chair will remain relatively still.
Nylon castors used on hardwood timbers, concrete and tiled surfaces often cause low resistance to a chair rolling. Low resistance means the chair is more likely to roll freely. This can lead to the prolonged use of postural muscles (particularly abdomen, back and legs muscles) which can be fatiguing.
Nylon castors used on a thick profile wool often cause high resistance to a chair rolling. High resistance means the chair will be difficult to move.
A firm mat with tapered flat edges can be used to address the issues associate with both low and high rolling resistance. For example a polypropylene carpet tile (1000 x 1000mm) may be purchased to ensure correct resistance.
Sit stand workstation
Optimal standing guidance
- Ensure that there is sufficient toe clearance to enable standing close to the workstation/counter and reduce the potential for leaning forward while working. 100mm of clear depth and 100mm of vertical height is recommended. Nothing should intrude into the thigh space e.g. protruding drawer handles
- Organise work to minimize twisting and reaching- move the feet, step lunge to reach
- For hard surfaces anti-fatigue matting should be supplied with a sloped or beveled edge to eliminate the risk of tripping. When installing anti-fatigue matting, consider the application/environment in which it will be used including requirements such as chemical spill resistance, oil resistance, heat resistance, etc.
- A stand-alone flat footrest can be useful where prolonged standing is required. Dimensions 120-160mm in height with a surface large enough to accommodate the length of the foot (200mm x 200mm approximately). Alternating elevating one foot at a time helps maintain the neutral spine (lordosis) in the lower back and combats fatigue
- Stand with the feet ‘shoulder’ width apart and with a very slight bend at the knees. This encourages more even distribution of weight over the entire surface of the soles. Locking your legs straight forces your body weight through your heels and loads the back muscles.
- Select well- fitting comfortable shoes with a firm heel grip, arch support and cushioned insole- particularly if walking or standing on concrete/timber or metal floors.
- Do calf raises to increase circulation to the lower legs. Take advantage of any pauses in work to do some gentle stretching
Optimal work heights when standing
Different work activities require different work heights. The following is a guideline however due to the considerable variation in worker body dimensions, fixed dimension workstation heights will never accommodate all users and wherever possible building in height adjustability is recommended
- Precision work, such as fine assembly, writing, repairing small items, restoring artwork where elbow support is needed: approximately at or just above elbow height.
- Light work such as keyboard work, mail sorting, administrative counter work, library service desk lending: approximately 50-80mm below elbow height.
- Heavy work involving application of force downwards or handling /using bulky items e.g handling animals, maintenance workshops, packing boxes, pipetting, operating bench top laboratory equipment: approximately 150-300mm below elbow height.
The computer workstation self-assessment helps you assess your computer workstation and make simple adjustments to optimise your comfort. This checklist should be completed when you join the University as a staff member and whenever you move to a new workstation location.
Provide a copy of your completed form to your supervisor for review.
In most cases you will be able to resolve any issues by speaking to your supervisor. If you are unable to resolve workstation concerns highlighted in your self-assessment, completing the Office Ergonomic training available via TrainME (access requires UoM credentials) can provide further guidance.
If you and your supervisor is unable to resolve your workstation concern, your concern can be escalated to your local Health and Safety Business Partner.
It is not necessary to do vigorous exercise to reduce the health risks associated with prolonged sitting; just punctuating prolonged periods of sitting with walking around is sufficient. People who break up their sedentary time throughout the day, regardless of their total sedentary time, have a better health profile. It’s all relative to moving the muscles.
It doesn't really matter what activity you do once you're up – the key to better health lies in getting up frequently. Your best posture is your next posture
- Introduce height adjustable workstations and allow staff to conduct some aspects of their work standing at this workstation. If possible set up a shared computer at this work point.
- Vary work tasks throughout the day as much as possible to enable a change in posture. Print documents in small batches, stand to read or speak on the phone
- Promote and encourage a standing-friendly culture e.g. encourage staff to stand during meetings or have a regular ‘standing’ agenda meeting item
- In the event you are required to sit for long periods, do some calf raises and stretches
- Use ‘imails’ – walk over and talk – instead of emails to colleagues
- Use a bathroom or drink fountain that is further away
- Use the stairs instead of the lift
- Eat lunch away from the workstation -walk around campus
- Organise walking groups at lunch time
- Stand on public transport, walk from the train station
The Health & Safety Services team have created the Office Ergonomics - Stretching and Moving video to assist staff. It shows stretching exercises help to relax muscles that have been working dynamically and move thoses which have been held in a fixed position. Stretching is helpful in maintaining good, neutral posture as it helps release overly tight muscles that can pull you out of postural alignment.
The Federal Government has information on sedentary work practices to help employers and employees understand and address the health hazards associated with prolonged sitting.
Vic Health has also released a useful publication, reducing prolonged sitting.
Job Design, Supervision and Work Practices
Prevention should be the primary focus of all Health & Safety programs. These strategies will need to include elements of:
- job design
- work organisation
- supervision and training
- the role of the individual and
- the ergonomic design of the workstation.
Supervisors are encouraged to:
- Ensure that all job descriptions of staff incorporate a variety of tasks which allow variation in movement and posture. A mix of repetitive or static work, and non repetitive work should be included so that recovery from any muscle fatigue is made possible.
- Endeavour to ensure that no employee is required to continually type or enter data for more than 5 hours per day. Where the job involves a major component of keyboard work, or other tasks using the same muscle group, frequent rest breaks should be taken. This structuring of the task should be a matter of discussion and agreement between individuals and their supervisors.
- Allow an adjustment period to the work rates after work absences or during a learning period.
Employees are encouraged to:
- Report any physical discomfort they believe is associated with their work to their Supervisor or Manager.
Work conditions and breaks
These are short breaks that provide an opportunity for muscles that have been active in keyboard or mouse use to rest and recover and muscles which have been fixed such as shoulder muscles or leg muscles to move.
Short Pause Break activities include:
- Answering the phone
- Collecting a document from the printer
- Getting a cup of tea or glass of water
- Visiting a colleague rather than phoning or emailing them.
Where a variety of alternative tasks are not available, it is important to have more breaks away from the task. The length of these and how often they are taken depends on the work, the person and other factors however it is important to note that frequent short pauses are preferable to infrequent longer pauses.
Doing exercises during breaks can provide a variety of postural changes and movement for muscles during periods of intense work. These exercises may be useful where there are no alternative tasks available. Exercises should be gentle stretches which provide rest for frequently used muscles and movement for muscles which have been static. The best exercise is usually to get up from a seated position and move around.
Health and Fitness
Your general state of health can affect your comfort and safety when working at a computer. Studies show that a variety of health conditions may increase the risk of discomfort, muscle and joint disorders and injuries.
Exercising regularly helps to improve physical fitness and avoid adverse health conditions. It also assists the body to better cope with unexpected increased demands such as prolonged static postures or an unexpected excessive reach or manual handling task.
Personal Tolerance Levels and Limits
All computer users have different levels of tolerance for intensive work over a long period. Those who have pre-existing health conditions should be particularly careful to avoid exceeding personal tolerance levels.
Safety in design
The University of Melbourne’s Design Standards are used by consultants and University staff involved in the design and development of the University’s built environment.
The Design Standards provide an essential link between the University’s strategic objectives and the built form that assists in delivering those objectives.
The Design Standards set out the minimum requirements for the design and construction of the University’s physical infrastructure.
Health and safety requirements are embedded throughout many of the design standards. Additionally, Section 2: Occupational Health and Safety concentrates on health and safety including reference to relevant legislation and standards.