UCL Department of Geography


Assess Your Working Environment

The purpose of this page is to help you to check that your working environment is comfortable and efficient.

The most important requirement is that it suits you and your job and so this page contains some guidance on what you can do to set up your own workstation. There are four steps:

  • Step One: Consider the different tasks you do and decide which you should give priority to when you organise your workplace.
  • Step Two: With these tasks in mind, work through the checklist and make sure everything is properly positioned and adjusted.
  • Step Three: If you find a problem, see if you can fix it yourself by making simple adjustments.
  • Step Four: If you find some problem which cannot be fixed by simple adjustment, then you should report it.
Step One: Prioritise Tasks

Typical tasks include using a keyboard where you will want the keyboard at elbow height, close enough to allow your upper arms to hang down naturally, and to be able to change position to avoid discomfort.

When operating equipment, it is important to be able to reach frequently used controls without excessive twisting and stretching. Space to spread out working documents is important, as is the ability to organise the workstation for different styles of working from inputting data to writing. Telephoning and informal meetings may be important and place constraints on how you want to organise your workstation.

Prioritise Tasks

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Step Two: Work Through the Checklist

The checklist is:

  • Keyboard
  • Display Screen
  • Chair
  • Worksurface
  • Lighting and Daylight
  • General Environment
  • Work Organisation and User Interface

Work through each section in turn.


Plan your desk so that you can do the tasks you do most often without twisting or stretching. If you use keyboard a lot, sit straight on to it. If you spend more time working on documents, put them in front and the keyboard to the side.

  • Does the keyboard feel comfortable to use?
  • Can you adjust it to a comfortable angle?
  • Is it separate from the screen?
  • Is there space in front of it to rest your hands when you are not keying?
  • Is the keyboard surface free from distracting reflections?
  • Is the keyboard layout appropriate for your task?
  • Are the symbols on the keys legible from your normal working position?
  • Have you sufficient space to use your mouse (if necessary)?

Display Screen

Place the screen at a comfortable reading distance, directly in front if you read it most of the time or to the side if you only refer to it occasionally. Make sure that you can do your main tasks without excessive twisting.

  • Is the screen image clear and stable?
  • Is the brightness/contrast easily adjustable?
  • Do the adjustments work for the lighting conditions?
  • Does the screen swivel and tilt easily?
  • Is the screen height comfortable?
  • Is the screen free from distracting reflections and glare?
  • Is the screen clean?


Now adjust your chair so that you are at the right height for keying - wrists reasonably straight, forearms approximately horizontal or sloping slightly downwards and upper arms hanging comfortably down from relaxed shoulders. Then check that your feet are comfortably on the floor and that your legs are not hitting the underside of the desk. Some people need a footrest to avoid their legs being unsupported and to prevent the underside of their thighs from being squashed by the front of the chair.

  • Is your chair stable?
  • Does it allow you to move and sit comfortably?
  • Can you adjust the seat height easily?
  • Can you set the seat back height and tilt to a comfortable position?
  • Do you need a footrest?


Now make sure that you have enough room for the equipment you use, documents and other reference materials.

  • Is the work surface large enough to allow some flexibility?
  • Is its surface suitable eg not too shiny?
  • Can you reach equipment eg printer and storage easily?
  • Is there enough space for you to be comfortable and change position?
  • If there is a document holder, is it stable and easily adjustable?
  • Is there sufficient legroom under the worksurfaces?
  • Is it clear of obstructions?
  • Is there sufficient storage?
  • Is access to your workstation satisfactory?

Lighting and Daylight

Adjust the position of your screen so that you are looking comfortably down at an angle of between 15 and 30 degrees below the horizontal but without hunching your shoulders. (a useful tip is that the top of the display casing should be approximately at eye level). You should be able to work at the screen without bright glare sources in your field of view and without distracting reflections.

  • Is the lighting suitable for you and your display screen tasks?
  • Have you sufficient light for other tasks?
  • Have glare and distracting reflections been avoided from display screen keyboard light fittings windows walls other sources?
  • Are windows fitted with suitable blinds, curtains or equivalent?
  • Are these effective in reducing glare and reflections?

General Environment

Even a good posture is tiring if you sit still for too long. We need to move and bring movement back into the job through deliberate exercises to avoid discomfort and fatigue. We also need to consider other aspects of the general working environment.

  • Does equipment noise distract your attention or disturb speech?
  • Does equipment heat cause you discomfort?
  • Is the atmosphere too dry?
  • Is the air temperature suitable?
  • Is the air conditioning satisfactory?
  • Are there problems with static?
  • Are there problems with trailing or unsecured wires and cables?
  • Are there any other health and safety problems?

Work Organisation and User Interface

Discomfort and stress can also be affected by the type of work you do and how it is organised. Display screen work can become almost addictive and some people find it difficult to adopt comfortable working patterns.

  • Do you have the opportunity to take breaks?
  • Does the job allow you to learn new skills?
  • Do you find the software easy to use?
  • Is it suited to your tasks?
  • Can you vary your pace of work if you want to?
  • Are the systems you use consistent eg in use of function keys?
  • Is the system response time suited to your task?
  • Are the manuals and documentation helpful?

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Step Three: Fix Problems

Now that you have worked through the checklist, you may have identified a number of problems or aspects which could be improved. Do not be concerned if you have chosen to adjust or set out your workplace differently from your colleagues. Remember that everyone is different and what matters is that your workplace suits you and your own style of working.

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Step Four: Who to Contact

If you think your setup if wrong, please contact: 

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