FORT LEE, Va. (March 21, 2013) -- When most people consider workplace safety, they tend to focus on machine accidents, electrical hazards, fires, slips, trips and falls, and similar mishaps.

Because work environments – including home offices – are highly automated, safety-minded individuals also need to look at an equally harmful hazard that is not normally recognized as a cause for serious health issues or injury. A wide assortment of smart phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic gadgets have permeated nearly every facet of our work and home life.

Perhaps you’re thinking that it’s no big deal considering the likelihood of anyone dying from a computer-based injury is miniscule. A point that should be considered, however, is computer-based injuries can severely alter your quality of life with pain similar to that of someone suffering with arthritis.

Did you know there were only about 675,000 video display terminals used by businesses back in 1976? Current estimates show more than 50 million computer screens of varying capacity are being used in the workplace in addition to those that are carried around in our pockets or purses, and in nearly every room of most households. Between work and home, the majority of Americans are spending most of their day looking at a computer screen, and that increasing trend has resulted in many automation-related hazards.

The most common types of injuries result not from the computers themselves, but how they are set up and used. Computer injuries are most often ergonomic injuries.

What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is a term now seen more frequently. Basically, it is the study of fitting the job to the worker rather than the worker to the job. For example, in relation to computer use, our goal is to adjust the workstation so that it causes as little strain as possible.

Applying Ergonomics to the Workstation

The usual computer setup consists of a display screen, a keyboard and a central processing unit. Safety concerns center around eyestrain and cumulative trauma disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Many computer operators also complain of pain in the neck and back, headaches, general tension, dizziness and, occasionally, nausea. To avoid these types of problems we can follow some simple steps with our work and home computers.

Eyestrain: Most computer-related eyestrain is caused by improper lighting. While you may not always have the best situation or area to work with, keep in mind the ergonomic process when working with your work and home computers.

Position yourself and your computer to eliminate or at least minimize glare on your screen .

Never shine a lamp directly onto the screen.

If you work near a window, adjust the blinds or shades to improve the lighting and cut the glare.

Place the computer at right angles to the window.

Angle the display screen to avoid backlight glare.

Move bright objects away from your terminal.

Adjust the brightness and contrast on the screen.

You may still need to give your eyes an occasional break. Simply taking your eyes off the display screen and focusing on a faraway object for a few seconds can work wonders. You can also try some eye exercises, like rolling your eyes, blinking or closing your eyes tightly for a few seconds.

Cumulative Trauma Disorders: CTDs are another issue that can cause serious injury over time. They are caused by repetitive motion – not only the moves we perform while at work, but also the same ones we continue to perform on our personal computers. One of the most common CTDs among computer operators is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause tingling, numbness or pain in the hands and wrists.

Using a computer also requires sitting for long periods of time.

We have become a very sedentary society, tied to the computer, television or gaming station.

This can cause back problems. Neck fatigue from looking back and forth from the source document to the display screen while at work and repetitive head and neck movements while playing our favorite computer game is also a concern.

To improve the ergonomics of your work area:

• Place your document at about the same height as the computer screen and make sure it is close enough to the screen so you do not have to look back and forth.

• Adjust your chair so the bottom of your feet reach and rest comfortably on the floor and the back of your knees are slightly higher than the chair’s seat.

• Adjust your screen to your height. The screen’s top viewing line should be no higher than your eyes and 18 - 24 inches from our face.

• Properly position your keyboard. It should be placed on a lower-than-normal work surface in order to keep the arms in a downward position and not interfere with the blood flow to the hands and fingers. Forearms should be parallel to the floor and wrist in line with the forearm.

• Organize your workstation so everything you need is within comfortable reach.

• Shift positions regularly.

While computer-related health problems are not life and death issues, they can be a real pain in the neck.

Some of these problems have already surfaced among young children who spend much of their time on computers, smart phones or personal gaming devices.

If you cannot seem to get comfortable at your workstation or if you are already experiencing pain or other symptoms, please inform your supervisor.

This is so an ergonomic survey of your work station can be scheduled.