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August 07, 2020 Safety News

Ergonomics for Distance Learning

Creating Ergonomic Workspaces for Students Learning at Home

Adaptation has become a running theme for 2020 as many of us have learned how to function in a world much different than what we were used to before the  pandemic. While ergonomics is classically associated with the workplace, many of us have saddled up to our own kitchen table to tackle our daily assignments. School-aged children may find themselves in similar positions if engaged in distance learning from home. Ergonomic interventions do not need to be overly expensive or flashy. Consider these practical tips when trying to set your student up for distance learning success.

Watch Neil Gagne, Ergonomics Specialist on NBC10's Studio 10 Back to School Student Ergonomics

Location, Location, Location

Ergonomics is the science of fitting a given environment to a worker, or group of workers, to limit exposure to physical stressors that could lead to discomfort or injury. Making the most of your student’s environment at home is key.  

  1. Pick a space dedicated to learning. As tempting as it might be set up shop on a bean bag chair, it might not be ideal if you are going to be there for the next several hours. Similarly, having a desk set up next to a television that is hooked up to a video game system might be counter-intuitive to ideal learning conditions. Pick a space free of other stimuli and dedicated to school work.
  2. Ensure that everything your child needs throughout the school day is within easy reach. Arrange regularly used materials like pens, pencils, notepads, and calculators on either side of the computer and close enough where the student doesn't have to lean forward to retrieve them.
  3. If a laptop computer is being used, set it at an appropriate height for the student who is using it. Your student’s eyes should naturally focus on the top third of the screen when seated in a supported position and looking straight ahead. If the screen appears too low, consider using a box or several books to elevate the screen.

Pull Up a Seat and Get Comfortable

When creating an ergonomically correct workspace environment, provide a seat that offers both support and comfort, which is key to producing an optimal learning experience:
  1. Use an adjustable office chair, if possible. Proper support and good posture should be the first priority for selecting a seat. Ideally, the student would be able to sit all the back against the seat, have their spine supported, and still be able to easily reach their workspace with their arms at their sides and elbow bent to about 90 degrees.
  2.  Modify a seat to fit the student. If a seat appears too big, or too deep, consider using a pillow or rolling up a sweatshirt to place behind your student’s back to assist with good posture and spinal support.
  3. Support their feet. If your student’s feet do not naturally touch the floor when seated all the way back against their chair, consider supporting the feet by using a tall box or step stool for optimal posture.

Select the Right Tools for the Job

While laptop computers and tablets are great for their portability, they leave a lot to be desired with support and optimal posture. Right out of the box, many of these devices are not ideal for longer duration uses. Adding peripherals to your device might be the best approach to produce the most comfortable set up.  

  1. Add an external mouse. As mentioned, the screen should be at an optimal height to help support healthy spinal posture. Making this modification always places the mouse at a less than ideal height. A wireless mouse is inexpensive and widely available at many local stores.
  2. Consider an external keyboard. If your student is going to be typing frequently throughout the school day, obtain an external keyboard in addition to the mouse would to help the student attain a more optimal computer work posture.
  3. Add task lighting. If lighting in the workspace is not adequate, try adding a lamp nearby or adjusting the blinds in a room to modify the lighting in the area.

Don’t Forget to Take a Break

The human body is not designed to be sedentary. We are at our best, and healthiest, when we move each day. 

  1. Take scheduled breaks. When seated and working at a computer for a long duration, it is typically recommended to get up from your seat every 30 minutes and move around. Encourage your student to get up and look out the window or get a drink to refresh their posture and give their body a break.
  2. Avoid eye strain. While the body can get tired sitting in one spot for too long, the eyes can get tired too. Encourage your student to look away from their screen every 20 minutes and stare at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This is known as the 20-20-20 rule for helping to avoid eye strain.
  3. Stretch. Stretching is one of the best things a person can do if certain parts of their body are used for repetitive motion. Stretching also positively impacts blood flow and can help keep your student engaged throughout the day.

Additional Resources


Visit Beacon's Ergonomics Services page for more information about workplace safety.

Read about Ergonomic Services

Neil Gagne
Written by

Neil Gagne

Senior Loss Prevention Consultant

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