The Ergonomics of Obama’s Workstation

For today’s blogpost we are going to be talking about the ergonomics of President Obama’s workstation. Yes, we decided to go BIG again! So often the ergonomics of our workstations are the last thing on our ‘to-do’ list, and often does not get the required attention due to the assumed complexity and costs associated with any fix. Well, to put bluntly, this could not be further from the truth! Our goal with this series is to bring attention common ergonomic risks that most of us easily overlook and offer some really simple solutions that we can all put into place today.

To see the past posts that we have done click one of the links below:

The Ergonomic Risk 

An ergonomic risk increases the likelihood of developing pain, discomfort, or even an injury as a result of the workstation set-up. There are pre-determined and proven ergonomic risks, these are forceful exertions, awkward postures, and repetitive postures. Click here for a full definition of each. Since we are just relying on pictures for this series, we will be only commenting on the observed awkward postures. However, awkward postures are a main indicator of ergonomic risk!

For the President, we will be taking a look at the ergonomics of the oval office, mainly a writing workstation, and the ergonomics of his computer workstation. This is a really unique post because I so rarely come across a writing-only workstation. There are exclusive ergonomic metrics related to just writing workstations.

The Oval Office (Writing Only)

obama desk

The ergonomic risks present are:

  • The work surface is too high, approximately 10-15 cm (4-6″) above the neutral elbow height. The ergonomic criteria for a writing surface is that it should be above the neutral elbow height by about 5 cm/2.5″. Due to these discrepancies, the President is observed to lean forward to write. Leaned forward postures are considered to be an awkward working posture, especially if held for prolonged periods of time.
  • After closer inspection of the chair, it would appear that there is a lack of adequate lower back (lumbar) support. Inadequate support can also contribute to back discomfort.

The Computer Workstation

 

The ergonomics concerns with this set-up are:

  • As you can see, the monitor is placed in the corner of the desk. The monitor may be placed in this location because the width of the desk is too short and cannot accommodate the President’s preferred viewing distance OR that the President prefers this monitor location so his view of the room is unobstructed. Either way, placing the monitor in this position leads to awkward neck positions when viewing the monitor, as represented in the above picture. This can lead to a lot of upper extremity/neck soreness.
  • Like the writing work surface, this work surface is also too high. But this time is is only slightly above neutral elbow height. This is indicated by the contact force between the underside of the wrists/forearms and the work surface as well as the awkward wrist position (wrist extension) while typing.
  • Lastly, I wanted to point out something ergonomically-sound with this workstation, the President’s monitor height looks to be quite optimal, positioned slightly below neutral eye height and tilted upwards at about 15 degrees.

The Solution 

Oval Office (Writing Work Surface):

  • The solution here is absolutely dependent on the duration of time that the President spends in this workstation.
  • If it is an insignificant amount of time (like, perhaps if this is only used for photo ops), it would likely be OK to focus on other priorities instead of changing this workstation.
  • However, if the President spends a lot of time in this workstation, I would recommend the following:
    • Since you cannot change or modify this historic desk, I would recommend that when the President must write that he raises his chair height to accommodate a neutral hand working height. To do so, the President would require: an improved ergonomic chair that can raise in height AND a footrest.
    • An Executive Chair with improved lumbar support, such as this one, the ErgoCentric eCentric Executive Series Chair. This chair would give the President some style without sacrificing functionality and an optimal ergonomic fit. Note: I am not an affiliate for ErgoCentric.
    • To provide full foot support when working with a raised chair height, an ergonomic footrest is suggested.

Computer Workstation:

  • Keyboard tray. For an improved hand working height during computer work, I would recommend a keyboard tray. This would not only free up valuable ‘real estate’ on the President’s work surface, but it will move him further away from the desk.
    • This would also increase the viewing distance so the monitor can be easily re-positioned in front of the President to eliminate the awkward neck postures.

We Can Also Help You!

Do these Ergonomic concerns sound familiar to you? Well, we are here to help! Check out our E-Consults for more information on how we can help you take the hassle away from Ergonomic Assessments and give you Real, Simple Solutions that you can put into place today.

 

 

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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