Health and safety with keyboards, the mouse and other pointing devices

Guidance on this page can help employers and employees eliminate or reduce and control risks when using keyboards, the mouse and other pointing devices.

Safe use of keyboards

Keyboard use varies according to the task. Generally, the more somebody uses a keyboard, the higher the risk of discomfort. This does not mean employees should not use a keyboard for long periods in their work. However, it is important that jobs are designed so employees can change tasks and take breaks from typing and keyboard tasks and that they work with adjustable equipment and furniture.

Notebook, laptop and tablet computers and other small keyboards can also present health and safety issues. WorkSafe's guidance, Working with Computers, has more information to help employers control risks from computer use.

Voice recognition and handwriting recognition software reduce keyboard work and can be appropriate for some users.

Touch-typing

Employees who cannot touch-type and have to look at the keys are at an increased risk of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). This is because the operator may bend their neck frequently or for a sustained period to see the keyboard or the document from which they are typing. When beginning to use computers it is important to learn basic typing skills. Short but frequent training using tutorial software programs can develop typing skills.

Employers should ensure employees who have to type in their work can touch-type and, where necessary, should provide resources and training to improve touch-typing skills.

Placement of the keyboard

The keyboard should be directly in front of the user in line with the computer screen or document holder if the document holder is the main viewing surface. By placing the keyboard directly in front of the user there is no need to twist or rotate to use it. The keyboard should also be near the front edge of the desk to reduce the distance required to reach the device.

If the user is working from reference documents, the documents should be between the keyboard and the screen or directly beside the screen. Reference documents should not be between the keyboard and the front of the desk because this position places the keyboard too far from the user and can cause poor posture.

Illustration showing a person seated at a desk working on a keyboard placed near the front edge of the desk.

Image: Keyboard placement near the front edge of the desk and in front of the operator.

Keyboard adjustment

Where possible, the feet at the rear of the keyboard should be in a lowered position to make the height and angle of the keyboard as low as possible. Lowering the height and angle of the keyboard reduces loading of the shoulder and wrist muscles. There should be enough space on the desk so the user can easily move the keyboard when it is not in use and create room for another task.

Split keyboards

Split keyboards are an alternative to traditional straight keyboards. Divided in half and angled, split keyboards aim to place the user's wrists in a neutral posture while keying. Some users prefer split keyboards but others find changing from traditional keyboards difficult, especially if they are using a mix of different keyboard layouts. As well, the trade-off of a neutral wrist position brings slightly altered upper arm positioning that some users do not like. Benefits from using split keyboards tend to be small.

Separate numeric pads

Because many users do not use the numeric pads on keyboards, consider a keyboard without a numeric pad to reduce the keyboard width and distance to the mouse.

The mouse

The mouse can come in different shapes and sizes. When choosing a mouse, make sure the mouse:

  • places the user's hand and upper limb in as neutral posture as possible
  • allows the desk to support the weight of the user's arm
  • keeps the user's wrist flat during use
  • allows the user's fingers to rest on the push buttons between actions
  • is designed to fit the size of the user's hand
Illustration shows a neutral position sitting at a desk, while using a mouse.

Image: Neutral position while using a mouse.

Use of a mouse

It is good practice to learn to use a mouse with each hand and to change between hands. This can help reduce or prevent discomfort from using the mouse. Many people do not want to change hand when using the mouse but, with practice, employees can learn to use the mouse with either hand.

Preventing discomfort when using a mouse

Using keyboard shortcuts and changing hands can reduce the need for users to keep their hand in one position when using the mouse. Moving the mouse towards the middle of the desk and pushing the keyboard back is also an option if the task is mainly a mouse activity.

If using a mouse mat, the user should place the mouse mat immediately beside the keyboard to reduce the reach distance and the risk of discomfort.

Ease of use and maintenance of the mouse

If the cursor is difficult to control, disconnecting the mouse from the computer and cleaning the mouse and mouse pad with appropriate cleaning products may make the mouse easier and quicker to use. You may wish to adjust the computer settings to change cursor settings such as speed and acceleration.

Alternative cursor controls

Alternatives to the standard mouse change the hand and arm postures of users and can increase efficiency. Alternatives to the mouse include rollers, pens, balls, pads and glide points. The main difference between a mouse and these devices is that the hand and arm remain stationary while the wrist is at an angle and the fingers or thumb stretch. Long periods of such use may cause finger, thumb or wrist discomfort. Users should lift their hand off the keys while operating the pointing device.

Your legal duties

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health, so far as reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety.

Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.

Find out more about office work and your legal obligations on the WorkSafe website page, The risk management approach to health and safety.