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Doing the Home Work

With the monumental rise in the numbers of people working from home, it is worth taking the time to consider some very important recommendations for your health and safety when using computers at home.

The workplace is a very different environment to the home office.  Apart from the commute being considerably easier, the home office is usually not designed or prepared for a full day's work.
Believe you me, if you don't follow these guidelines, you will regret it!

As a qualified Vocational Education Tutor, students often look at me in total disbelief when I tell them that we will be covering Occupation Health & Safety when I am running a Certificate II in Desktop Publishing!  How dangerous can that be?
However, trust me, working at your desk can, and does, result in permanent long term pain or disabilities.

 

Discipline

Dress the part :
Resist the temptation to hang out (literally) in your pants or PJs and slob out all day.  Dress as if you are going to work – it puts you in the right frame of mind and helps you to stay focused on the task at hand and puts you in the right frame of mind.

Schedule your day :
Even if you don't have Skype chats, Zoom meetings or conference calls, it is a good idea to keep your diary open and jot down times in your day to achieve particular milestones or do jobs (see 'Taking a Break' below).

Avoid distractions :
I know this can be hard if you have kids at home to look after, but you won't work effectively if you don't concentrate and more importantly you will go raving bonkers trying to juggle too many things in your head!  Seriously – your mental health IS AT RISK in the work-from-home environment.

Keep things in order : 
If you are working on your computer, put your phones out of reach until you need them.  It has long been recommended to check your emails only two or three times a day – and let your clients and colleagues know that.  Stay the heck off social media and focus on the job in hand.  Let your mantra be "There is a time and a place for everything".

 

Rest and Exercise

Take a break :
Never, and I mean NEVER, work on a computer screen for any more than 30 minutes without taking a break!  Technology has reached a level whereby we can get a shed load of things done in a fraction of the time it used to take.  As a consequence we can be tempted to move straight from one task to the next.  Indeed some jobs expect that of us nowadays.   However, that only serves to compound the complaints and risks we are going to cover in this section.  Frequent mini breaks will keep you healthy – physically and mentally – and enable you to work better and safer.

Neck and wrist exercises :
Working in front of a computer causes stresses and strains on your body.  Particularly the neck and wrists.  Sitting in front of a screen tapping keys is a totally unnatural thing to do. Darwin suggests we may adapt and evolve to accommodate this ludicrous pastime, but until that happens, we will have to counter the strains with gentle exercises.  During your regular break every 30 minutes, roll your head and wrists, clench your fists and shake your arms.  All of this will help to keep the circulation flowing and prevent aching muscles.

Eye exercises :
Eye exercises?  Is he serious?  Well, yes I am.  Your computer screen should be no more than an arm's length in front of you.  That is pretty close to be staring at for a long time.  Your eyes are very complex organs, controlled by a whole heap of things that I am not qualified to explain.  As President Trump would say "I am not a medical doctor . . . !
It is known that in order to prevent serious eye problems, we must take time to rest and exercise our eyes.   Use your break times to work your eye muscles by re-focusing on distant objects.  Move into a room with a different light intensity (preferably darker).  Close your eyelids or blink to keep them moist.  Eye strain is very common and very easy to avoid.  We take our eyes for granted and just a few minutes exercises every half an hour will really help.

 

Posture

Take a seat :
Don't be tempted to prop your backside up on the bar stool, or slump down in the recliner.  Back, neck and shoulder strains are very common in computer users.  In some cases the damage caused can be permanent, albeit over a slow build-up period.  It looks like those of us working from home may be doing so for quite some time.  Indeed this may become the 'norm'.  Invest in an ergonomically designed office chair, specifically designed for computer usage.  A straight or, at least, adjustable back and with arm rests is recommended.

Are you sitting comfortably? :
Don't confuse comfortable with ergonomically correct.  Unless your job involves slumping on the sofa watching movies, then you really do need to sit up straight and concentrate!  When working at a computer the rule of thumb is to "keep your elbows, hips and knees at 90 degrees".  This is where arm rests come in handy.  Slouching over a computer is the worst cause of back injuries in the office environment, so sitting upright at your desk is of paramount importance.

The light fantastic :
Positioning your screen needs to be given some careful consideration.  It is obvious you shouldn't have a bright light or window behind you, because you won't be able to see the screen properly.  It is just as important not to have the main light source behind the screen either.  This causes severe eye strain as your eyes try to deal with the differentiation in contrast.  The ideal light source position is natural light from a window that is perpendicular to the computer.  If it is too bright – draw the curtains!
Oh, and before I leave the subject . . . don't bother wasting money on blue light suppressing glasses.  Blue light is part of the whole light spectrum and is 100,000 times stronger in natural sunlight than what is emitted from your computer screen!  It will not harm you provided you don't spend 36 hours straight, looking at your screen!

Look me in the eye :
To prevent back and neck strain, it is recommended to keep the top of your screen at slightly below eye level.  This means you can scan your entire screen by just moving your eyes and not your whole head!  Of course, learning to touch type would help, but if you're not up for that, at least keep the whole operating area – screen, keyboard and reference material – within eye movement distance.  For those who have never suffered from back pain, take this advice if you take no other – protect your back!

 

Sustenance

Eat, drink and be merry :
I've seen some desks that look like a binge eating research project!  We have already established the regular break thing.  Remember?  Every 30 minutes?  Right, so that is the time to replenish and re-hydrate.  Don't gorge yourself senseless.  A snack and a drink will do nicely.  By a drink, I mean water and by a snack, I would suggest a piece of fruit.  If you binge on sugary fizzy drinks and junk you will not only give yourself a very dodgy constitution but you may make your entire working environment a chemically hazardous area for any family members to enter in to!

 

Working from home can be rewarding and fruitful . . . but you MUST take it seriously.  By following these simple recommendations and controlling your new 'workplace' you can avoid many of the physical and mental strains that this change can bring.

Take care of yourselves and for heaven's sake – don't drink the disinfectant!

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