Working from home can be a pain in the neck…

How Employers Can Encourage Workspace Ergonomics

– – 1/11/2021

What is ergonomics? It is the study of people in their work environment and their efficiencies and safety.

Remember the good old days, when we were all in the office Monday through Friday, we dreamed of what it would be like to work while lounging on our couches, click clacking away on our laptops in our pajamas with a beloved pet snuggled against us.

The pandemic quickly forced us to realize that working from home is not all it’s cracked up to be. For many of us, we learned that our Work From Home (WFH) space is terrible for ergonomics, particularly if we didn’t already have a distraction free home office set up.

We’re seeing a recent rise in Workers’ Compensation claims due to a variety of musculoskeletal injuries; the most common are neck and lower back strain. This is a result of misalignment due to chair and monitor height, degree of elbow extension, slouching, and foot position. In addition, teleworkers may forget to take movement breaks, and are seated in the same position for hours at a time. Human beings, however, were meant to move. Experts recommend that we get up and move every 30 minutes (how many of us do this, and how much better would we feel if we did?)

You might say that, as an employer, you are unable to control the hazards in an employee’s home work space. However, the courts disagree.

It is an employer’s responsibility to provide employees with a safe working environment, regardless of whether they are at home or working on the company premises.

What Can Employers Do?

Most employers have established a Work from Home policy in recent months to outline expectations for their telecommuting workers (if not, McCloskey Partners can assist!)

Policies often focus on guidelines for work performance; for example, establishing blocks of time when employees will be available for phone calls and meetings and other team collaboration expectations. We encourage employers to add ergonomics to their policies.

Here are a few recommended suggestions:

  • Provide resources such as handouts, videos or training to your employees. Consider hiring a subject matter expert to deliver an online session on proper workstation set up and use of office tools. For print resources, UCLA offers well-done, detailed fact sheets for safer telecommuting.
  • Give a checklist to employees that includes ergonomic best practices, safety measures they should implement, and potential hazards to be mindful of. Identify risks early and ensure they have the tools they need.
    • Once they have redesigned their workspaces for maximum efficiency and ergonomic compliance, have them sign and submit the checklist. You may opt to do this every 3 – 6 months.
    • OSHA has a great self-assessment here. You can also check in with your Workers’ Compensation carrier and request additional resources. Here is another two-page quick reference guide.
  • Talk to your employees about how they can incorporate movement into their day, such as taking a walk or doing a 5 – 8 minute “mini-workout” or yoga. Check out this blog from SnackNation, which provides both an explanation and video of 25 office exercises.
  • Suggest other ways to minimize stress and distraction while at home, and increase focus and relaxation. For music or office background sounds, employees can check out Brain.fm, Naturespace or Noisli. For mindfulness and meditation, refer employees to Aura, Calm and Headspace.
  • Establish a set schedule including meal and rest breaks, mimicking office life. Employers are then clearly able to discern if an injury occurred while the employee was actually working.

We are here to assist! If you need additional suggestions or policies for keeping your telecommuting employees happy, safe and productive, please reach out to us.