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Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which scored a direct hit on global business, millions of employees around the country have been sent home, and many of them are able to conduct business remotely. What did not go home with them – proper workspace ergonomics.

Now more than ever, ergonomics matters. Without proper ergonomics, workers can suffer back, neck, wrist, and pelvic pain. The makeshift nature of work conditions from home could mean some of your employees lack proper lighting, adjustable seating or monitor heights, well-aligned keyboard heights and distance, and any number of factors that can cause musculoskeletal injury or a cumulative trauma disorder (carpal tunnel, back strain, sciatic pain, etc.).

Effective ergonomics in an office setting is challenging enough, but when employees must work from home, the chance of injuries stemming from poor ergonomics increases. Too often, employees assume their home computing habits will translate easily to an eight-hour shift. However, most home computing has been limited to a few hours, and employees are able to use devices without pain or discomfort. When employees adopt those same computing habits for an entire workweek, it could be a recipe for muscle strain.

That muscle strain can cause widespread implications for your business. Research shows that improper workstation ergonomics can increase injuries in your workforce and result in higher workers compensation and medical costs. In 2018, over 308,000 injuries and illnesses involving time away from work and medical treatment, and an additional 159,000+ involved soreness and pain.

For companies, that translates to higher costs. The direct costs associated with musculoskeletal disorders are $15 to $20 billion, with associated costs pushing the total to $45 to $54 billion per year. Musculoskeletal disorders account for 33 percent of all worker injuries and illnesses.

The good news is that most musculoskeletal and cumulative trauma disorders caused by improper ergonomics are preventable. Proper ergonomics can help your employees by:

  • Reducing injuries and illnesses
  • Lowering employee turnover
  • Reducing workers’ compensation claims
  • Increasing employee productivity
  • Reducing absenteeism
  • Improving employee morale

Moreover, your company can help remote employees by offering the tools and advice that can help them self-assess and adjust their work areas. (Read AXA XL’s latest Environmental Risk Bulletin – Ergonomics: Home and Office Computer Workstation Best Practices – for more information too.)

Work Station Self-Assessment
A good work station self-assessment will help your employees perform safely and comfortably from their home environment.
Here are some of the areas that your employees should be assessing:

Chair 
If they do not have one already, employees should consider purchasing a fully adjustable chair. The chair needs to provide adequate lower back support. That allows the user to sit comfortably in an upright position for extended periods.

Also, the chair height is critical for the comfort of the user. To get the height correct, the chair should allow the user to sit with knees at a right angle and both feet firmly planted on the floor. When necessary, a foot rest can help some users attain that position. Also, arm rests can give additional support when users are performing other tasks.

Video monitor
The height and visibility of the screen is important to alleviate or avoid neck or eye strain. The top of the screen should be set at slightly below eye level. The goal is to allow users to view the center of the screen without tilting the neck, which can bring on neck and shoulder strain. The screen should be set at the highest possible contrast and should be positioned so that screen glare is at a minimum. In situations where glare cannot be eliminated, employees should use a glare screen. Also, important – employees should keep screens clean to enhance visibility. Distance from the screen will vary per person, but recommended distance is between 20 and 24 inches.

Computer table
The desk or table your employee works at is an important factor in ergonomic comfort. The table should be set at a height that is level with the user’s elbows. For the best comfort, forearms should be parallel to the floor when users are typing. The elbows, like the knees, should be positioned at a right angle.

Another consideration – the position of the mouse and keyboard. A keyboard that is too high or too low can cause strain in the arms, neck, or shoulders (or all three). The keyboard should be set so that the forearms can maintain a right angle while the user is typing. The mouse should be located close enough to the user to reduce reaching and straining. When possible, users should consider adjustable keyboard trays to help users maintain a neutral write posture.

 

Beyond equipment and adjustments, your employees can maintain good ergonomic health by scheduling regular rest breaks throughout the day.

Ergonomic Best Practices for Remote Workers
Beyond equipment and adjustments, your employees can maintain good ergonomic health by scheduling regular rest breaks throughout the day. Employees should incorporate some or all of the following into their work day routine:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Arm and wrist stretches
  • Deep knee bends and waist twists

To keep eye strain to a minimum, employees should follow the 20-20-20 Rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Blink often to keep your eyes moist.

Your employees should also be assessing their wellbeing regularly to help avoid potential injury. At the beginning and end of each work day, employees should make a note of any areas of discomfort. If the discomfort does not subside or gets worse, they should be reporting the symptoms to their supervisor. Many musculoskeletal strains can be treated quickly and effectively without medical intervention. Early intervention can reduce potential injury and can help your employee correct any issues going forward. Even a minor adjustment to the work station can make a big difference in employee comfort levels.

If those adjustments do not improve the symptoms, employees can talk over with their supervisors the use of alternative equipment or reduced computer time options. For any serious issue, your employee should seek medical assistance as soon as possible, and adjustments to the work station ergonomics should be made with the guidance of an ergonomics specialist.

Should your employees need help with adjusting their work stations, they should contact your company’s ergonomics representative or Human Resources department. A follow-up survey should be performed after the changes have been made to confirm that the situation has improved, and no more modifications are needed.

Keeping your employees productive and healthy while they are working remotely includes helping them work in an ergonomically sound environment. Because ergonomic injuries cost businesses so much in lost time and workers compensation costs, preventing strains and injury are paramount to a healthy workforce. Ergonomic health can help your company reduce absenteeism, medical claims, and keep your employees well and safe. The result: happier, more productive employees, no matter where they are working.

For more help, download AXA XL latest Environmental Risk Bulletin: Ergonomics: Home and Office Computer Workstation Best Practices.

 

About the author
Brad Berkowitz, CSP, ARM is a risk consulting associate for the Property & Casualty team of AXA XL’s Environmental Insurance team. Brad can be reached at Brad.Berkowitz@axaxl.com.


  • About The Author
  • Risk Consulting Associate, Property & Casualty Environmental
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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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