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Human Resources: Adjustments to suit

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Cite as: (2005) 79(11) LIJ, p. 83

Considering the number of hours spent at work, it makes sense to ensure workstations are set up correctly.

Long work hours are especially evident in the legal profession. Progression and promotion are only possible if a lawyer generates money for a firm. This is monitored through the well-known “billing” process.

With increasingly demanding budgets, lawyers are required to spend more and more hours in the office. The seven and half-hour working day has become a thing of the past.

With such demanding hours, employers need to consider the importance of creating a happy and healthy workplace for their employees.

Following last month’s column that addressed work/life balance, this column will focus specifically on ergonomics[1] in the workplace.

Safety in the workplace means looking at overall practices and policies, such as ensuring that correct evacuation procedures take place. Ergonomics, however, is more specific to adjusting the immediate working environment.

The following are suggestions to ensure work is carried out in a safe and health environment.

The right way to set up a workstation would include:

  • adjusting the backrest of the chair so that it supports the natural curve of your lower back. Some chairs are better designed than others, but any work chair should have well-formed back support;
  • adjusting the seat height so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and your feet are fully in contact with the floor (this allows you to change position easily and brace against the backrest);
  • checking the seat height in relation to the height of your desk and keyboard. Are your elbows at or just below the level of home row on the keyboard? If so, your arms and wrists should be in the most relaxed position for keying. If you need to raise your seat height you may need a footrest to regain foot stability; and
  • positioning your documents at a suitable height and position so that your neck and back are comfortable and so you can easily manage your documents.

Ways to arrange the working day to limit regular back and neck pain would include:

  • ensuring you take regular breaks during the day. Regular movement can prevent your muscles from stiffening and becoming strained;
  • trying to change tasks regularly as a way of avoiding muscle tension;
  • being wary of time pressures, as tense situations lead to tense muscles;
  • creatively placing some of your equipment (printer, files etc.) so that you have to get out of your chair once in a while and move;
  • remembering your eyes. Regularly looking away from the screen, preferably at something further away, will help rest your eyes; and
  • acknowledging any muscle fatigue or eyestrain (especially if frequent or worsening over time). If either persists, alert your manager.

Advice for managers

  • Ensure workstations have been ergonomically set up. Work towards educating your staff on the importance of maintaining a correct posture.
  • Ensure proper, adjustable work surfaces for both keyboarding and clerical work, for maximum operating and working ease.
  • Provide adjustable placement for computer screens, regardless of staff work habits, quality of eyesight and work requirements. Some staff feel it necessary to rearrange their work set up. Monitor this regularly to ensure their workstation is not causing excessive muscle strain.
  • Provide proper lighting to suit the task; at the same time eliminate glare and reflections from the entire viewing task area.

Please consider the above suggestions to ensure your workplace is ergonomically friendly.

Discuss them with your staff to ensure they understand the repercussions of incorrectly set up workstations.

For further information on the above please visit the Victorian WorkCover Authority website at and click on the link to download the guide titled “Office Wise – A guide to health and safety in the office”.

NATALIE BERK is the Law Institute of Victoria’s Human Resources coordinator. For further information on this column and other HR issues ph 9607 9411.

Minimum rates of pay

The “Minimum rates of pay” article in the September 2005 LIJ, page 29, has unfortunately caused some confusion among members. Updated information on which award rates apply to you and your staff can be found on the LIV website at or contact the HR Information Line on ph 9607 9548 for further information.

[1] “Ergonomics” can be defined as “the study of the problems of people in adjusting to their environment, especially the science that seeks to adapt work or working conditions to suit the worker”. See, for further information.


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