Safety, Health and Injury Management and Wellbeing

Care and comfort when marking written work

Our role is to develop and assist in the implementation of the UWA safety, health and wellbeing programs in order to minimise the risk of injury, illness and property damage.

We provide consultancy and other services to promote best practice and legislative compliance in all University and related activities.

This guideline is designed to provide useful information for staff to prevent discomfort and muscle strain when marking written work, whether at home or in the office.

It outlines how you should set up your workstation and sitting posture, and provides some points to remember when managing your workload.

There are three natural curves in your spine: cervical, thoracic and lumbar. Correct posture maintains all three curves, preventing undue stress and strain by ensuring your body is in proper alignment and body weight is evenly distributed.

Incorrect posture places stress on the muscles in the back, neck and shoulders which may result in musculoskeletal strain and subsequent discomfort and pain. When awkward postures are repeated or held for extended periods of time, the risk of injury is increased.

  1. Correct sitting posture
  2. Desk and work layout
  3. Writing technique
  4. Lighting and vision
  5. Breaks
  6. Time management
  7. Points to remember

Correct sitting postureCorrect sitting posture

  • Use an office chair that has height adjustment and backrest adjustment, fits your body size, and that you find comfortable.
  • The seat height should be adjusted so that your knees and hips are in line with your thighs running parallel to the floor.
  • Both the knees and hips should be at about 90 degrees. Some people with lower back pain prefer their knees to be slightly lower than hips.
  • Feet should be flat on the floor or supported on a footrest.
  • The lumbar support on the chair backrest should be positioned to fit into the curve of your lower back.
  • Angle the backrest between 90 degrees and 100 degrees, and try and sit back against the backrest as much as possible.

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Desk and work layoutDesk and work layoutDesk and work layout

  • Adjust your chair height so that when your hands are positioned on the keyboard, the tips of your elbows are in line with the surface of the desk. Shoulder should be relaxed, not elevated or depressed.
  • Collect items required for marking and place them in a sequential order within easy reach. Place items you frequently use closest to you (thus minimising reaching and unnecessary movement).
  • Place the work to be marked directly in front of you.
  • Position yourself close to the desk to prevent yourself leaning forward and avoid leaning over your work.
  • Sit back in the chair and allow the backrest to support your back.
  • A slopeboard or large A4 file (turned on its side) can be used to reduce neck flexion.
  • Avoid over-reaching for items when seated, especially heavy items or those stored below seat height.
  • Always stand and lift correctly.

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Writing techniqueWriting technique

  • When marking, use a soft leaded pencil or a pen with free-flowing ink rather than a ballpoint pen.
  • Thicker circumference pens or pen grips can be beneficial to avoid hand discomfort. The larger the grip, the less strain on the small muscles in the hand.
  • Be aware of the position of your hand and arm and avoid tensing muscles unnecessarily (for example, by gripping the pen when reading or clenching other items such as reference documents).
  • Check that you do not twist your neck or back when writing.

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Lighting and vision

Improper lighting can affect your comfort, health and efficiency and can lead to eye strain, headaches and general fatigue. To avoid eye strain and the adoption of incorrect postures it is important to ensure you have proper lighting.

  • Work tasks should be easy to see, and the lighting must be comfortable to the eyes, with no shadowing, glare or reflection present.
  • Ensure there is adequate overhead lighting, and if necessary use a desk lamp to further illuminate the work in front of you.
  • Work at 90 degrees to the overhead light source.
  • With close work it is important to rest your eyes. Periodically look up and away from your work, focusing on an object at least three metres away. Then return your focus to the task.
  • Perform eye exercises frequently such as rapid eye blinks.

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It is important to take rest breaks to avoid spending long periods of time in static postures. This should be done for 10 minutes every hour.

During this time you should get up out of your seat and move around. This will improve blood circulation and give your muscles a break. Performing simple stretching activities during this time will further aid your muscles and prevent strain or injury.

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Time management

  • Ensure that you allow enough time to complete a task efficiently and at your own pace.
  • Pace yourself so that you will have the energy to do what you need to do without rushing.
  • If necessary, negotiate your workload with your supervisor. If you are having difficulties it is better to communicate this to someone and avoid crisis situations.

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Points to remember

  • Stop and think about what you are doing if you notice discomfort when marking written work.
  • Organise your time.
  • Organise your equipment.
  • Consider posture and movement.
  • Be aware of warning signs of discomfort, stop and take a break!

A print-friendly version of this page is provided below.

References: Comcare Australia, (2007). Officewise: A guide to health and safety in the office. Commonwealth of Australia: Sydney. National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders from Performing Manual Tasks (2007). Back and Neck Care Handouts. All diagrams from “Officewise” Comcare.

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