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Ergonomics and Work-From-Home Risk Management

Like many business executives, Brian Parker is a fairly engaged user of LinkedIn. An Alera Group vice president and the company’s National Practice Leader for Benefits Technology and Services, he uses the business-oriented social media platform to post and share content of value to clients and colleagues, as well as to potential customers.

One of Brian’s posts appears to have registered more than any other. In mid-April, he shared an article from the Boston Globe titled “After a year of working from home at a card table, I’m paying the price at the physical therapist.”

“As we know with the pandemic, working from home became more than temporary,” Brian said in his post. “Make sure you are set up for success, as well as taking care of your wellness …”

The response was immediate: likes, shares, messages and lots of comments — more than 80 at last count. Of course it didn’t hurt that LinkedIn featured the post among its April 20 editors’ picks, under the headline “Work from home is pinching a nerve.” By the middle of that day, Brian’s post had received more than 17,000 views.

It’s been well over a year since people accustomed to doing most of their work in a company office began working from home due to the spread of COVID-19, and it’s clear that, for many, the experience has been physically painful. Most employers have tried to encourage and support healthy work-from-home (WFH) arrangements, but, for various reasons, many employees still find themselves in positions similar to the ones that led the author of the Globe piece to a physical therapist.

Workstation Injuries, Workers’ Comp Costs

To gauge the effect of working from home the healthcare network management company One Call earlier this year compared claims from Quarter 4 of 2020 with Q4 of 2019, the last quarter before the pandemic. The results show substantial increases in claims received for injuries associated with poorly designed workstations and improper ergonomics:

  • Lower back pain — 24.6%
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome — 17.9%
  • Cervical radiculopathy (nerve root damage in spine) — 16.2%
  • Pain in hand — 13.2%
  • Wrist or forearm sprain/strain/contusion — 10.3%.

One Call cites data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Council on Compensation Insurance to demonstrate the cost of such injuries when they result in a Workers’ Compensation claim:

  • Occupational disease/cumulative injury — $35,779
  • Carpal tunnel — $30,510-$64,953
  • Sprain/strain — $31-851.

It’s obvious that, under the wrong conditions, working from home can cause all sorts of pain — financial as well as physical.

Managing Risk, Preventing Injury

The online health information provider Healthline cites three categories of risk factors for people in “sedentary work environments involving computer use,” with those in the first category leading to the greatest number of injuries.

  1. Contact stresses
    • Forearms resting on edge of desk
    • Resting wrists on a wrist rest while typing or using a mouse
    • Chair arms are too high
    • Seat pressing into the back of knees
    • Chair height causes feet to dangle, pressing seat into thighs.
  2. Postures
    • Sitting in a slouched position with a flattened lower back curve, forward head and rounded shoulders
    • Using a keyboard or mouse with hands in a non-neutral posture, which can cause hand or wrist discomfort
    • Using a laptop with prolonged bending of the neck, overstretching muscles in the back of the neck, and overstretching muscles in the front of the neck and chest.
  3. Static positions
  • Sitting without changing positions for extended periods
  • Working at non-traditional workstations, such as a dining table, couch, bed, floor … or card table.

For information on how to minimize these risk factors, we turn back to the folks at One Call, who provide three downloadable PDF’s:

Here’s a related tip: Take a break.

When you’re in the office, you’re getting up from your desk, going to the printer, grabbing a cup of coffee, stopping by to talk with a co-worker. When you’re working from home, especially in a setting not prone to distractions, it’s easy lock in and remain essentially in the same position for long periods of time. You need to take those breaks.

And when you do walk away from your desk, make sure to avoid slips, trips and falls. This requires keeping any area in which you may step free of cables and cords, boxes, briefcases, slick spots and anything else that may turn step into misstep.

Resource for Human Resources

If you’re an employer or human resources professional, your concern for your employees goes well beyond ergonomics. We invite you to join us on Thursday, May 20, for a webinar designed enhance your employee benefits program in ways that not will only enhance your offerings but also help you improve efficiency and strengthen your bottom line. To register for Strengthen Your Benefits with EB Technology, click on the link below:

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR


About the Author                             

Fran Sierotowic
Loss Control Manager, Property & Casualty
AIA Alera Group

Fran Sierotowicz is the Loss Control Manager/Safety Consultant within AIA, Alera Group, where she focuses on helping organizations evaluate the risk and cost of their insurance programs. Her focus in on Workers’ Compensation, with an emphasis on establishing cost-effective compliance and loss-cost reduction programs. Fran works with a variety of stakeholders in various aspects of business – financial, operational, human resources, training – on formal safety programs and culture, ergonomic evaluations and strategies, health and safety training, safety program auditing and fleet management services. In addition to holding a master’s degree in safety management from the West Virginia University, she is certified as a Fire Protection Specialist by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and authorized as an inspector by OSHA.

Contact information:

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