The topic of ergonomics is huge. It is far too large to cover in one, ten maybe even hundreds of articles. But the benefits of ergonomic-minded planning are too important to ignore. This article is intended to help savvy security professionals realize the value in careful considerations during planning, leading to more attentive operation, increased effectiveness and user comfort and safety.
The Range of Ergonomics
Ergonomics is a far broader topic than some typical definitions would indicate, such as this one from the Berkeley Lab: “Ergonomics is the science of designing the job, equipment, and workplace to fit the worker.” While clear and concise, this definition could easily be interpreted as focusing on the physical elements alone — “fitting the worker” in a physical sense. In truth, each of these elements is not just physical. Each one has broader implications, including psychological, cognitive and perceptual factors.
Factors for Ergonomic Consideration
Recognizing that many security installations are fundamentally similar to computer workstations, there are many recommendations available for how best to set them up.
The US Department of Labor, for example, via its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), promotes ergonomic considerations specifically for computer workstations. Their evaluation checklists have sections for these elements:
• Working Postures
• Keyboard/Input Device
• Work Area
The only downside of this and similar checklists and recommendations may be that they are too limited. That is, that they reinforce the idea that the physical ergonomic elements by themselves are enough to consider.
Despite that focus, there’s no question that checklists and recommendations like these are a positive step. They can not only help setting up workstations in a way that reduces a full range of possible strains and injuries, but they also help to educate a wider group of people about the importance of ergonomic considerations in the purchasing, setting up, training and operation of workstations and workstation-based tasks.
If the field of ergonomics is actually very wide as well as complex and deep enough to often require a master’s degree, what do security executives need to know?
In short, this:
1. Ergonomics is very important, and will affect user operation. Whether it helps it or hurts it is up to you.
2. Ergonomics has relatively observable physical elements that can be planned for and adjusted in operation to minimize negative effects.
3. Ergonomics also includes perceptual and psychological elements that are more subtle, but could well be just as important to your results as the physical elements.
A Closer Look: The Ergonomics of Monitors
The monitor is the primary source of information to the workstation user. Whether it is a monitoring station, front desk or badging station, the monitor tells the user what is happening, what action can be taken and what information is available for making decisions.
Monitor Ergonomic Recommendations: Checklists often recommend positioning the worker in the chair and desk before addressing the positioning of the monitor.
The size and shape of the human determines the basics — chair height, knee height, reach and similar factors. The position and arrangement of the chair, desk and keyboard or other input devices depends first on the size of the human that will be using them. Arranging a monitor before setting the seat height will not result in an optimal arrangement.
Once the chair and desk are adjusted, then we can address the position of the monitor itself. Eye Level or Below? While many published checklists reflect the current ‘conventional wisdom’ that the monitor should be positioned directly in front of the worker, at a height such that the top of the monitor is at or slightly below eye level when sitting upright, some in the field question whether this is correct. Some cite research indicating that the normal viewing angle is lower and that mounting monitors lower would be better for overall performance.