Enter the Neutral Zone

If Rod Serling, the creator and narrator of the original television series, The Twilight Zone (circa 1959-1964), portrayed an ergonomist, he would likely begin his show with the following:

“You unlock this door with the key of posture awareness. Inside it is another dimension: a dimension not only of muscle and bone but of nerves, tendons, and ligaments; a journey into a wondrous region whose boundaries are that of limited reach and minimal stress. Your next stop… The Neutral Zone.”

The handbook, Fundamentals and Assessment Tools for Occupational Ergonomics, cites a definition of neutral zone as “the part of the range of physiological motion, measured from the neutral position, within which the motion is produced with a minimal internal resistance.” The University of Connecticut’s Occupational and Environmental Health Center describes neutral posture as the resting position of each joint in which there is the least tension or pressure on nerves, tendons, muscles, and bones.  It’s also the position in which muscles are at their resting length where maximum force is developed most efficiently.

Applying the neutral zone principle to workstations establishes a boundary of 18 to 24 inches for the placement of most frequently used items such as the keyboard, mouse, phone, and pen & pencil container. A simple way of defining this boundary without use of a tape measure or ruler is to hold your forearms horizontally over the work surface with elbows against your torso, sweeping your hands back and forth like windshield wipers. Less frequently used items such as reference books, desk organizers, and electric calculators should be situated within a secondary zone of 24 to 36 inches and slid closer when needed. Personal effects such as photos of the family and pets should be located furthest away. 

By entering the word “neutral” in the search field at the top of the page, several archived Safety Net Blog posts appear with links to the main article. One in particular, titled Ten Tips for a Perfect Fit, provides sound advice on achieving ergonomic comfort at the workstation.  So read this and related posts and enter The Neutral Zone!