Study and working conditions
Make sure you have a suitable place to work or study at home
To avoid unnecessary contact, everyone at our university whose work can be done remotely currently has to work at home. All our teaching is given remotely and students are studying at home. Some people have a fully fitted office at home where they can work or study, while for others their kitchen table serves as an improvised work or study place. This raises some questions about what makes a good workplace. This page gives you some helpful information from our health and safety experts.
The golden rule to avoid physical problems when working and particularly when working at home is: vary the things you are doing, alternate typing with other activities (such as making phone calls or holding meetings) and change your posture by putting the backrest of your office chair in the free-float position or by standing up at regular intervals. Most students and staff will not have a sit-stand desk, but they may be able to use a kitchen bar or a bar table for parties.
General tips for working at home
- You should preferably be somewhere where you can work quietly and concentrate.
- Plan breaks and set an alarm to alert you to them (on your phone, for example). Six hours typing a day is the maximum and you should divide this into sessions of no more than two hours, and take a 15-minute break after each session: you can use the Workrave software to help you with this if you want.
- Make sure you change your posture and your working activities frequently: if you’re making phone calls, for example, it’s not necessary to sit at a desk.
- Make sure the room temperature is comfortable for you; you’re more likely to develop symptoms if you’re cold.
- Make sure you have good natural and artificial light: sunlight on your screen (or behind it) makes it difficult to read and may give you a headache and neck pain. Reflected light on your screen has the same effect.
- Make sure you are sitting directly facing your screen (and that you’re not having to twist your body).
Setting up your study or workspace
Chair height and armrests
Your chair is at the right height if your lower legs are at an angle of 90 degrees to your upper legs. A little more then 90 degrees is also fine. If you have a chair with adjustable armrests, the ideal height is so that your lower arms are at an angle of 90 degrees to your upper arms without hunching your shoulders. If you do find yourself hunching your shoulders, you’ll soon develop problems with the muscles between your neck and your shoulders (and probably also your neck and/or upper back).
At the ideal desk height, your lower arms should be at an angle of 90 degrees to your upper arms without hunching your shoulders. If you do hunch your shoulders, you’ll soon develop problems with the muscles between your neck and your shoulders (and probably also your neck and upper back). If you have a chair with armrests, adjust these first (see Chair height and armrests above), then slide your chair towards the desk; the ideal desk height is the same as the armrests.
And if you don’t have an adjustable desk?
Make sure your upper body is in a comfortable position: people are more likely to experience back, shoulder, neck and arm complaints than problems with their legs. If the desk is too high, you will need to raise the height of your chair, and support your feet with a footrest (if necessary, an improvised version).
For more tips on working at a computer and working from home see the following links:
- Use this test to see if your workstation is set up properly and whether you are at risk of developing RSI/CANS.
- This film tries to raise awareness of how to prevent RSI/CANS when working from home.
- This films gives a few RSI prevention exercises that stretch and strengthen your forearms and back. Simple exercises that you can do every day.
- See this news article (in Dutch) for an interview with Health & Safety and Environment Coordinator Els Vijfvinkel and more tips and trick on working and studying from home.
To avoid neck and back problems when working at home, it is important that your chair and desk are properly adjusted. If you have any questions about your home workplace or if you have any physical complaints, please contact the health and safety coordinator of your department or building. You can also contact the service desk.