What started out attached to a desktop personal computer is everywhere. Keyboards are attached to computer terminals, COWs (Computers on Wheels), and many instruments. Yet little has changed in their design (more about that below). They are big, bulky, clunky, difficult to clean, and hard to adapt to a traditional laboratory setting designed for paper.
The OSHA Computer Workstations e-tool offers these tips:
- Put the keyboard directly in front of you.
- Your shoulders should be relaxed
- Your wrists should be straight and in-line with your forearms
The goal is to ensure your posture and joints are in a neutral position. Placing a keyboard too high or low strains joints after hours of repetitive motion. Cumulative strain causes injury.
Adjustments are fine for a single workstation in an office or cubicle used by one person but notoriously difficult amidst specimens, requisitions, reagents, instruments, and on countertops installed pre-computer. We do the best we can.
A keyboard’s switch type -- what’s between the plastic key and the keyboard circuit board -- also affects its ergonomics.
Most use a “rubber dome” switch type, in which a key compresses a polyurethane bubble coated in graphite that completes a circuit. These dome-type keyboards are dirt cheap, lightweight, and reasonably quiet. The downside is they wear out quicker, the keys have a “mushy” feel to them when pressed, and each key has to be pressed down all the way to work. Typing speed is slower, and your fingers have to work a teensy bit harder.
Mechanical switches, these days favored by gamers, used to be common and have a separate switch beneath each key. The design of the switch determines the amount of pressure needed and how loud it is. But generally mechanical keys are more accurate, far more durable, and require less effort to press. (They’re also pricey.) Typing speed is faster, and your fingers don’t work as hard. It adds up.
Recently I dug my old mechanical Microsoft Internet Keyboard (circa 2005) out of my attic and hooked it up using a PS2 to USB adapter. And you know? The keys are better.
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