Durham, NC - Starr Loftis stretched a measuring tape from the floor to a co-worker's elbow, then positioned the keyboard tray to the same height.
"Now pull up to the desk and let's see how far your eyes are from the monitor," Loftis told the co-worker at Duke University Press. "You should be able to reach out and touch the screen."
Loftis, an administrative coordinator at Duke University Press, also volunteers as a department ergonomics coach, helping employees in her department correctly arrange their workstations.
As part of a recent ergonomics session, Loftis reviewed 17 areas included in a self-evaluation checklist available to all Duke faculty, staff and students through the Ergonomics Division of Duke's Occupational and Environmental Safety Office.
Duke offers the ergonomics checklist and an accompanying informational video to help employees set up their workspaces to increase comfort and productivity. The checklist and video cover topics such as setting the correct height and position of a keyboard, monitor, mouse and chair to improve comfort and reduce the possibility of injury.
The resources help the Ergonomics Division manage requests for workstation evaluations. In addition, the division trains interested employees like Loftis to assist their coworkers in creating ergonomically correct workspaces. Currently, there are 55 ergonomics coaches in 10 departments across Duke University and Duke University Health System.
"With our small staff, we can't visit the work stations of 30,000 employees," said Tamara James, ergonomics division director. "We also realize you don't necessarily need an ergonomist to adjust your chair."
Staff and faculty at Duke with an office or workstation ergonomics question are asked to first use the online self-help tools before calling the Ergonomics Division for an evaluation. If there is an ergonomics coach in their department, employees are also asked to turn to the coach for help before requesting a visit from Ergonomics.
Rather than focusing on basic office setups, the ergonomics specialists at Duke spend more time dealing with issues that are more complex. This includes, for example, a recent visit to readjust a workstation for an employee who needed a leg elevated during an injury recovery.
The division also holds free monthly education seminars for the volunteer department ergonomics coaches. These seminars expand upon basic office ergonomics training by covering topics such as proper task lighting or introductions to new equipment. The meetings also provide a networking opportunity where coaches share tips on how to help employees understand the importance of correct posture and movement in preventing musculoskeletal disorders and improving safety.
Loftis, who became an ergonomics coach for Duke University Press three years ago, said the most common changes she oversees are chair and keyboard height.
"For some reason, people like to type with their arms going down, and that puts pressure on their wrists," she said. "It's hard to convince some people that their elbows and wrists should be level. But even little changes make a difference."