There is no regulation that specifically addresses workstations and seating. However, under s21 of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer has a duty of care to employees to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (so far as is reasonably practicable).
Section 21(2) of the Act is then more specific with relation to plant (equipment), substances, systems of work, facilities and so on.
This means that the workstation should be such that it does not create risks to the worker's health and safety. Ergonomics refers to how the workplace is set up, in relation to the equipment, the design of the building and how work is performed. Don't forget too, that with increasing evidence that sedentary work is a hazard, there needs to be consideration of breaks, and adjustable workstations.
Some basic rules for workstations:
When you are sitting at your workstation, you should be able to place your feet firmly on the ground or on a footrest, your thighs should be parallel with the floor, and the backrest of your chair should support your lower back. You should be able to move your chair easily about the work area, and its base should have five points touching the floor. These may be castors or fixed (depending on the need).
The chair should be ergonomically designed: but take care when purchasing. Lots of chairs on sale are labelled as 'ergonomic' - but they're not. Ask if the chair conforms to Australian Standard AS/NZS 4438 (Height-adjustable swivel chairs). If it does not, then ask why - and don't accept that it's 'ergonomic'
Your workplace should be set up so that you do not have to twist, reach or bend too often. If you do have to reach for something, it is better to get up and use the opportunity to change your posture. This will reduce fatigue. Getting up and stretching at regular intervals is a good idea.
Learn how to adjust your chair:
- alter its height until your shoulders are relaxed, not slumped, in the working position;
- adjust the backrest into the small of your back;
- ensure the seat pan is flat or sloping upwards (NEVER downwards) at the front;
- use a footrest if there is any pressure under your thighs.
- Alternatively, lower your desk (if you can) as well as your chair;
- make sure you know and follow the elements of correct posture.
See How to sit at a computer for more information (from the website Ergonomics in Australia).
When sitting at a computer, the screen should be set up so that you can read the screen with very little movement of your head, neck and shoulders. You should take rest breaks for your eyes every 15 minutes. The simplest way is to look away from the screen at something in the distance for a few minutes, or combining this with getting up to change your posture and stretch.
- On this site: Computers and VDUs - what are the guidelines?
- Officewise: A guide to health and safety in offices.This is a WorkSafe publication which provides information on a range of office issues. It is also available (free) from WorkSafe (1800 136 089).
- From WorkSafe Victoria: Fitness Ball is not suitable as a chair
- A great guide from Queensland: Ergonomic Guide to computer based workstations [pdf] which has a very useful checklist at the end.
- From NSW WorkCover Participative Ergonomics Blueprint [pdf]
- Comcare - the Virtual Office
Last amended November 2019