The Modern Monitor: 4 Ergonomic Concerns For The 21st Century

Monitors have changed a lot in the workplace in the past while. Well, a lot has changed to be honest. Remember those big CRT monitors that were common about 15 years ago (or less for some people)? I certainly do! Interestingly, many of the office ergonomic monitor set-up guidelines that you see today are actually based on the original CRT or at least, single monitor set-ups. However, most of the set-ups that I see today, especially with the ‘younger generation’, have at least a dual monitor set-up usually with wide monitors and sometimes in unusual orientations. Non-optimal monitor set-ups can result in risks to the upper extremities, eyestrain, and even headaches. For all these reasons, the modern monitor set-up is the next ergonomic consideration for the 21st century workplace, check out our 4 reasons below!

4 Ergonomic Concerns For The Modern Monitor

1. Ergonomic Considerations

There are many guidelines that recommend an ideal ergonomic set-up to avoid injuries for its users. We all have our favourites, that’s for sure. This is my favourite to use. Here’s what a stereotypical ergonomic set-up for a monitor usually suggests:

  • Viewing distance for monitors should be within one arm’s length away (40-74 cm/16-29”).
  • The top of monitor should be slightly below eye level and the entire monitor should be tilted upwards and towards the user at approximately 15 degrees.

All these factors together ensure that the neck is in a neutral position. However, these are based off of single, square monitors. Today the shift seems to be towards wider with (at least) two monitor systems and these dimensions may mean that the usual ergonomic recommendations no longer hold up!
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2. Viewing Distance Trade-off

I’ve noticed that for those who use dual monitors, wide monitors, or dual (or more) wide monitors, users prefer to have their monitors further away than what the ‘ideal’ ergonomic set-up would recommend. I remember a few years ago I ran across a research paper also observing this – I wish I had saved the article. The viewing distance only increases with a dual widescreen monitor system. But here’s the thing: the further the monitors are away from you, the more a trade-off is necessary to avoid ergonomic risk such as craning your neck forward to view the screen. SOLUTION: Wider monitors will likely need a longer viewing distance. A longer viewing distance will require you to increase the font size to avoid eye and neck strain.

3. Awkward Neck Postures

Wide monitors, especially in dual monitor systems can be risky. If an awkward neck posture (like rotating the neck to view a wider screen) is sustained for long periods of time then this would be considered to be an ergonomic risk. An ideal neck posture should be relatively straight forward when viewing the main monitor. To be considered to be the main monitor, a monitor should be used more than about 70 percent of the time. As mentioned above, the problem lies in when multiple wide monitors are used at once. Fairly easily, the user can adopt awkward neck positions (side turning more than 35 degrees) with these set-ups; something that should really be avoided! You can angle the monitors towards the user (like in the picture below) as a fix to reduce some of the side-to-side neck turning, but sometimes it’s just not enough to be any benefit to the user. The same is true when a widescreen monitor is oriented in a vertical position; the top of the monitor will be well above what is considered to be a neutral position resulting in neck extension (aka neck back bending) and this is incredibly risky! SOLUTION: For using multiple wide-screen monitors you may get some relief if you push them away from you aka increase the viewing distance. Be aware of some of the ergonomic concerns with this from #2.

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4. Different Monitors

Typically when I see multiple monitor systems, rarely do I see the same type of monitor used for each. It usually works like this: when someone gets a new monitor, the older monitor is saved and used as their second monitor. Rarely are they the same monitor, more likely they tend to be mismatched monitors size-wise and have different screen resolutions. This mismatch used over prolonged periods of time (months or even years) may result in eye discomfort, eye strain, or even headaches for some users. SOLUTION: If you are using multiple monitors, make sure that they are the same type/model whenever possible!

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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!

    2 Comments

  1. My solution for this next time is to get one big monitor (probably 5K, and probably scaled). Having experienced turning my neck a lot with a 3-monitor setup, I cringe a bit when I hear people talking about getting 3 4K monitors (although I am guessing they scale them). But I don’t know how I would fit more than one anyway — ergonomic advice suggests having one monitor that is the central monitor, and as soon as you do that, it means others would have to be off to the side (and angling them isn’t suggested either, I don’t think) — so the practicality quickly decreases.

    Just some thoughts!

  2. Darcie Jaremey
    February 27, 2017

    Couldn’t agree more! I see that all the time Kevin! It can be really hard to find a balance between monitor size and ergonomics! I think most of us realize too late about the ergonomics of their set-up!

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