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Office Health and Wellness- Let's Understand the Problem Before We Solve It

Popular Desktop Risers & Keyboard Trays may be Band-Aid Solutions. Let's Understand the Problem:

Typical Problem (A) – “After using my computer for a while I experience shoulder and neck pain”

Popular Solution – Pullout Adjustable Keyboard Tray  

The “adjustable keyboard tray” is good. The “pullout” part – not so much! Keyboard mechanisms and trays came into their own back in the 80’s and 90’s as a solution to the growing number of complaints of discomfort from people who were spending considerable time on computers.

The height adjustable tray allowed the user to find relief from shoulder and neck pain by getting the keyboard down to a comfortable level and the “cockpit” style workstation, which was an outcome of placing the deep CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors in the corner, made the side work surfaces easily accessible, creating a comfortable, ergonomic solution.

However, today, thin monitors don’t require corner work surfaces. They easily fit on the desk and, after all, L shaped corner workstations are so – yesterday. Today, in the North American office, everything wants to be rectilinear and the trend is more toward collaborative workstations. Much more aesthetically pleasing (prettier).

First, let’s UNDERSTAND the problem

So why do I keep climbing up on my high horse about height adjustable keyboard trays?

To set the record straight, I’m not against keyboard trays. I’m just not for the way they are often being installed. Notice I said “installed” rather than “used”. The problem is not just about alleviating neck and shoulder pain.

If you were to ask a number of people who have keyboard trays installed under their desks, you’d very likely find that many don’t use them, yet still have issues with discomfort. They have swiveled them around or pushed them in under the desk out-of-the-way. Why? It could be because of a double-edged sword scenario, one edge good, the other not so good.

The Good:

The good is that the height can be adjusted down to set the keyboard at a comfortable keying height. It can also be angled, if necessary, so that the wrists remain in a comfortable, neutral position. In addition, a few keyboard mechanisms, like Knape & Vogt’s Sit-Stand Length mechanism, enable shorter users (see our Ergonomic Assessment Tool here) the option of standing or sitting.


Keyboard Tray the Good and the Not So Good

The Not So Good: 

The “not so good” is the pull out part of pull out keyboard trays. When the keyboard is pulled out from  the underside of a straight front work surface, the work surface, in essence, moves away by as much as a foot. With it goes everything but the keyboard and possibly the mouse. That means frequently used items such as reference and writing materials, phone, coffee, etc. are not easy to reach. This frequent bending forward prompts the user to move away from the proper support of the chair back, bringing stress and discomfort to the spine and lower back. The inconvenience also often prompts the user to abandon the tray.

Typical Problem (B) – “ I need to have the option of sitting or standing while at my computer”

Popular Solution –  Desktop Riser

Desktop Risers are popular solutions for those who already have a desk and, face it, most of us do. All that is needed is clear a space on the desk top, plop on the converter, hook up your computer and you’re away. You can now sit or stand when using your computer.

Desktop Risers The Good and the Not So Good

First, let’s UNDERSTAND the Problem

The problem is not just about having the option to sit or stand. There is a lot more to it. To understand whether or not a Desktop Riser is the right solution, we need to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What is my correct/best keying height when I'm sitting at my computer? (see Ergonomic Assessment Chart)
  • Is my existing surface at the correct keying height and, if not, can it be adjusted?
  • Have I considered the additional thickness of the desktop converter’s keyboard platform? (Measure from the floor to the height of the keys - not the height of the work surface)
  • When the desktop converter would be in the lower (sitting) position, would the monitor be at the correct viewing height and distance? (again refer to the Ergonomic Assessment Chart)
  • Will the height range of the desktop converter be sufficient to accommodate sitting and standing for both keying and viewing heights?
  • While standing, will my frequently used items such as reference and writing materials, phone, coffee, etc. be within easy reach without me needing to bend and twist?

The Good: 

The “good” is the obvious convenience. No need to replace an existing desk or workstation or find a place for an additional piece of furniture.

The Not So Good: 

There are two types of Desktop Risers. One has a keyboard tray that fits down over the front edge of the work surface. This allows for a lower keying height, but also makes the work surface less accessible as I have explained regarding height adjustable keyboards (above). The second type has the keyboard platform sitting atop the existing work surface, making a generally bad situation even worse. (see bullet points). Neither type allow the monitor to be placed at the recommended distance for viewing comfort, nor are they conducive to attaching a monitor arm that would allow height adjustment.

The “not so good” is using a Band-Aid approach in an attempt to solve an issue that has potentially negative health and wellness impacts. Similar to height adjustable keyboard trays, I believe that, after the novelty wears off, many Risers will be pushed aside because they were not a complete, well thought out ergonomic solution.

“…one cannot discount the increasing numbers of dissatisfied and/or injured office workers: their discomfort and health problems are very real. There is very little doubt that working with computers (with emphasis on the actual work and not the computers themselves) causes or heavily contributes to these problems.” Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety 1

Band-Aids can be costly.

1 www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/office/modern.html

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