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Risk Factors and Sources of Injury > Incorrect Monitor Position          
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Incorrect Monitor Position

Graphic of Ergonomic Considerations When Setting
            Up a Sitting Workstation

What is the Correct Location (Height and Distance) to Position the Monitor?

In single-monitor workstations the monitor should be located directly in front of the user (i.e. inline). The top of the viewing surface should be at or below eye level (see graphics at right). In order to provide an appropriate viewing distance the monitor should be located at least 18" and no more than 36" from the eyes; if uncertain, place it a distance equal to the size of the monitor (i.e. if a 24" wide monitor is being used, it should be located at least 24" from the eyes of the user when normally seated).

In the case of multi-monitor workstations where the user regularly accesses content on all monitors, the user may choose to position themselves in the midline of all viewable area (even though this may be where two screens "meet"), positioning the two screens in a slight "V" shape. If the user primarily uses one screen and the other(s) only for occasional reference they may choose to center themselves in line with the middle of the primary screen. To facilitate an optimum viewing distance to all screens, any secondary monitor should be angled towards the user to create a "cockpit" workstation layout.

Finally, adjusting screen resolution can also assist in readability of fonts, etc. Most monitors today use a wide screen form factor, and the default resolution is typically 1920 x 1080.  Reducing the resolution (while maintaining the scale or ratio i.e. to 1600 x 900 or even 1280 x 720) can improve readability. Most operating systems also have other settings which can assist in readability including high contrast themes, direct access to adjusting text and font sizes (often accessible by pressing CTRL and the + key at the same time) and even a focused area magnification tool.

Graphic of Ergonomic Workstation Guidelines When
              Standing at a Workstation Why is Incorrect Monitor Position a Risk Factor?

... If the Monitor is Too High
Neck or back strain will likely occur as the user attempts to "lean" back to see the viewable area on the monitor. When the monitor is at a higher elevation, the eyes of the user will be drawn upward. Even if this is only a slight change in eye position, there will be an instinctive tendency to incline the head upward, putting strain on the neck muscles. Over time the entire body will subconsciously try to lean backward to relieve the tension on the neck.

... If the Monitor is Too Low
Neck strain or back strain will likely occur as the user attempts to "lean" forward to see the viewable area on the monitor. When the monitor is at a lower elevation, the eyes of the user will be drawn downward. Even if this is only a slight change in eye position, there will be an instinctive tendency to incline the head downward, putting strain on the neck muscles. Over time the entire body will try to lean forward in an attempt to relieve the tension on the neck.

Graphic of Ergonomic Workstation Guidelines When Leaning
          at a Workstation

A normal relaxed position for the head is anywhere from completely vertical up to as much as 10° looking downward - any "tilt" larger than that can lead to the issues noted above. 
... If the Monitor is Too Far Away
This will cause the user to be forced to lean forward or squint to see text or fine detail on the monitor. This can lead to eye strain, and stress on the back as the user leans forward (losing the benefit of any back / lumbar support and moving the spine away from the natural orthopaedically supportive S-Curve
) to see the monitor more clearly.

... If the Monitor is Too Close
The user will be forced to lean back or move their chair away from the workstation to prevent issues with focal distance (i.e. the ability to focus), which can make the keyboard, mouse and reference materials more awkward to reach and lead to overreach issues.

How Far from the Optimal Position Does a Monitor Have to Be to Avoid It Being a Risk Factor?

For most individuals, the eyes can accommodate a height variance of approximately 5° without too much effort. This translates over an 18" distance to 1.5". For horizontal variance the range can be approximately 15° which translates to 5" over an 18" distance. However, the problem is that most individuals will tend to achieve this movement with their neck as opposed to their eyes, and as this is a subconscious action, it can be a difficult one to actively prevent from occurring. 
What are the Symptoms of a Monitor Which is in the Wrong Position?

Symptoms that may indicate that the monitor is at an improper position are aches, fatigue and pain primarily in the neck but also potentially in the back. 

Monitor position is often blamed for eye strain as well, however, even with the monitor in the optimal location, most users will find their eyes becoming tired when working for extended periods on the computer. People blink less frequently when viewing a monitor and/or reading, and blinking gives the muscles in the eye an opportunity to relax. In addition, the muscles aren't being used when the user maintains focus on a set distance for an extended period of time.  The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends the 20-20-20 Rule to combat eye fatigue.

20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 Minutes, Take a 20 Second Break, and Focus On Something 20 Feet Away

Do Users with Bifocal / Multifocal or Progressive Glasses have Different Considerations when Positioning the Monitor?
Graphic Showing Factors to be Considered when Working
            with BiFocal Lenses Graphic Showing Factors to be Considered when Working
            with Progressive Lenses Graphic Showing Factors to be Considered when Working
            with Computer Lenses

In the case of Bifocal Lenses, the lower portion is normally used for reading and near focus targets. Because this style of lens makes no provision for the viewing of a computer monitor, Bifocal users are forced to substantially lower the monitor and bring it closer in order to position it within the "near focus" zone. This makes it extremely difficult for them to maintain correct neck posture. With the head held at an anatomically neutral vertical position the monitor should lowered to the elevation where the user is able to clearly focus on the screen (i.e. substantially below the position of the monitor in the graphic above). This ensures that whenever they are viewing the monitor their neck will be positioned for optimum support of the head. However, because the "near vision" zone tends to be positioned quite low on the lens and because lowering the monitor and drawing it towards the user will interfere with any documents or holders on the desk surface, most will tend to leave the monitor positioned too high and will end up tilting their head back in order to be able to view the monitor through the "near vision" portion of the lens. This can be addressed by having custom lenses made which, rather than having the traditional Near and Distance zones, instead combine the Near zone for reading with a "mid-range" zone suited for computer screen use. This would enable the user to work effectively with both written content screen-based material. Because the upper portion of the lenses would provide optimal viewing the user would also be able to have appropriate neck posture while viewing their monitor(s).

Progressive or Multifocal Lenses require different positioning than Bifocals. With these glasses there are usually 3 viewing zones. The upper zone is for distance viewing, the middle zone for mid-range, and the lowest portion of the lens is for "close-up" use, usually reading. Most of these users will require a smaller reduction in elevation of the monitor than those with Bifocals because they will tend to rely on the middle portion of lenses when viewing their monitor. The potential risks when using this type of lens is that most users will find that the "depth" of the mid-range portion of the lens does not permit them to clearly view the entire depth of the monitor screen. As a result they will find themselves constantly using their neck to compensate, tilting the head back to view the upper portion of the screen, and leaning forward or tilting the head down to view the lower portion. Another factor that needs to be considered is the fact that the "mid range" portion of the lens is designed to facilitate optimum viewing within a central zone. This means that in order to properly focus on extra wide or multiple screen configurations the user will need to be turning their head to ensure that the the focal zone is directed towards the portion of the screen currently being viewed. Attempting to use just the eyes to look from left to right will move outside this central zone, resulting in distortion and blurring of the screen content.

Computer Glasses are another option that is becoming quite common, especially for those who spend the majority of their time working on the computer and regularly referencing the monitor. These are single vision glasses made specifically for use at a computer. Because the entire depth and width of the lenses is set to the optimum viewing distance for computer screens there is a much lower risk of the user adopting awkward neck p ositions while trying to keep the portion of the monitor being viewed within the correct focal zone of the lens. This issue is increasingly prevalent as monitors continue to get larger, resulting in screen content which is now spread over a much greater vertical range. These taller screens require those with multi-vision lenses (bifocal, trifocal or progressive) to use their neck to constantly raise and lower their head as they view content at different screen elevations. The dedicated single vision glasses address this concern as well as providing a "full width" view that is not available with trifocal or progressive lenses, reducing the need for lateral neck rotation.

Why is Reading from a Piece of Paper, Cell Phone or Tablet Different than Viewing a Monitor?

Some individuals might be inclined to think that since the head is typically significantly inclined when reading papers, cell phones and tablets, the same posture should hold for viewing monitors. This assumption has several flaws. The reason paper and most electronic devices are typically read at a lower elevation stems from biomechanics. Human arms are not designed to maintain an extended position for any period of time at or near shoulder height. Lactic acid will build up almost immediately upon the extension of arms. It is far more comfortable to hold any object with arms relaxed at the sides and bent at the elbow. When viewing a monitor, the arms are not involved, making the comparison inappropriate at best. 

Humans act (and react) to their environment from a vertical position, walking on two legs and sitting in an upright position. Hunting ancestors and modern day human pedestrians default to scanning the horizon to ensure that they are safe. A more practical example is that the "prime" location in grocery stores for product placement is at a height of 48 - 60" off the ground for these same reasons. 

How Can the Choice of Accessories or Workstation Help to Address Incorrect Monitor Position?

The addition of a Monitor Arm is the best strategy to ensure correct monitor positioning and an addition worth considering when designing workstations. Other alternatives include Adjustable Height Desks and Monitor Risers.

What Other Strategies can be used to Address Incorrect Monitor Position?

In some workstations, there is insufficient depth available to position the monitor appropriately. Moving the monitor to the corner of the workstation (and possibly adding a Corner Converter) can often yield needed inches to increase the distance between the user and the monitor.

Consider the possibility of adding a second monitor to the workstation, as this may sometimes alleviate demands placed on the user by a single monitor solution.

Last edited June 28th, 2018

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