The other day, I mentioned to my wife that I was experiencing much more back pain than I’m normally used to. For someone with a primarily desk-based role, that’s not entirely uncommon. But her response to my complaint left me thinking. “Well, did you see how you were sitting for the last two hours?” she responded. Fair point. One of the things I have to acknowledge is that when I get into a productivity groove, I can find myself sitting in the same position for hours on end, which isn’t great for your posture, or coincidentally, your back pain. My bad.
But it did get me thinking about the effect that social distancing may be having on our health, beyond reducing our chances of contracting COVID-19.
Since COVID-19’s emergence has forced governments worldwide to enforce social distancing measures to reduce the risk of virus transmission, more companies have embraced, or have been forced to embrace, the idea of their employees working from home. And for those unaccustomed to working from home, such a dramatic shift can create occupational risks that we may not initially recognize.
Related: Cority's COVID-19 Resource Center
Home Office Ergonomics 101
Now, I’m somewhat lucky that I have a dedicated workstation in my home. For those that are not used to working from home, however, they may not be spending enough time thinking about how to design their new work environment to reduce their risk of a musculoskeletal injury. If you are one of those individuals who are sitting on your couch with a laptop or tablet in your lap, or crouched awkwardly over the kitchen table, there's a good chance that you need to consider a workstation re-design, before it translates into needless pains and strains.
Ensuring that employees have properly designed work areas at home should be top-of-mind for businesses as well. While regulations are certainly different across jurisdictions, many regions will recognize injuries incurred from working at home as occupational in nature, meaning that those injuries could result in costly compensation claims for employers, and trigger the same mandatory reporting requirements that exist for other workplace injuries. Since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that thousands of workers develop a repetitive strain injury (RSI) each year that ends up costing businesses an estimated $20+ billion a year in worker’s compensation claims, it’s not something to be taken lightly.
That’s why now is a great time for employers and employees alike to really take a hard look at office ergonomics, and how they are working collaboratively to manage risks of musculoskeletal injuries as more people work from home. And fortunately, many EHSQ software solutions are available to help employees create ergonomically-friendly workstation designs that maximize their productivity, while reducing the risk of soft tissue injury.
It always starts with assessing the risk
Like anything we do in the occupational health and safety sphere, our success at reducing common ergonomic injuries starts with conducting a comprehensive risk assessment. But for those unfamiliar with ergonomic risk factors or the principles of proper workstation design, it may be a little tricky. For this reason, organizations may wish to invest in digital solutions that enable their workers to easily complete an office ergonomic assessment at home.
These solutions will walk the employee through all stages of completing the assessment and produce a clear analysis of the risks posed by the current set-up. Most importantly, many of these solutions will even offer users recommendations on how to reduce their risks by applying useful tips and tricks to remove risk factors that could lead to pain over time. For employers, having all work-from-home employees complete assessments on the same platform enables them, by leveraging data analytics and visualization features within the solution, to identify their most at-risk workers and ensure that additional follow-ups can be provided, and corrective actions assigned and monitored in real-time to reduce that individual’s risk of harm.
Cority is one of those companies offering such a solution. We are even implementing those solutions amongst our colleagues and co-workers working from home to ensure they remain safe and productive during this “interesting” period we find ourselves in.
Take a break, will ya!
It’s an odd feeling. For those unaccustomed to working at home, it can create feelings that you need to work harder (and maybe longer) than normal since there’s no one there to check in on you. It’s also not uncommon to completely lose yourself in your work, only to look up and realize you’ve worked way past the given workday, since you are not interrupted by the normal evening commute or with the responsibility to pick up the kids.
In either case, it’s important for everyone working from home to design the workday to include the same reasonable breaks that afford the opportunity to get up and stretch, give your eyes a momentary rest from staring at a screen, and maybe grab a bit of fresh air. Many EHSQ software solutions offer interesting tools to help employees adjust their behaviors and reduce the risk of injury caused from maintaining static postures or conducting highly repetitive motions for long periods of time without rest. These tools, integrated within an enterprise ergonomics software solution, include automated notifications to remind people to take a pause to allow overused body parts to recover, or simply to check and modify their posture to avoid static loading of soft tissues. These simple behavioral cues can be extremely effective at reducing the risk of incurring pain.
No one knows how long social distancing will be required. But just because many of us have been forced to work from home doesn’t mean it has to be painful. It’s simply a matter of thinking ahead.
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About the AuthorMore Content by Sean Baldry, CRSP