Work From Home Ergonomics
Blog | December 4th, 2020

Work From Home Ergonomics

Often, what can seem like a minor issue can blow up into bigger problems later. In the workplace, while environment, health, and safety incidents get much attention due to their impact on people and the surroundings, a nagging but very real problem is the increasing incidence of work-related health issues such as musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), which has become common across the globe and across industries. It is common to see employees suffering from problems such as:

  • Numbness or a burning sensation in the hand
  • Reduced grip strength in the hand
  • Swelling or stiffness in the joints
  • Pain in wrists, forearms, elbows, neck, or back
  • Reduced range of motion in the shoulder, neck, or back
  • Dry, itchy, or sore eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Aching or tingling
  • Cramping
  • Weakness

The Positive Impact of Good Ergonomics

The problems mentioned above are all a result of poor posture, prolonged sitting or standing, stress, and poor working conditions. Taking cognizance of the importance of a work environment that promotes the health and well-being of the employees, standards, and regulations such as the ISO, OSHA, and others provide definitions and ergonomic principles for creating optimal working conditions that promote human well-being, safety, and health. It not only covers the physical space but also includes skill development, technological and economic effectiveness, and efficiency.

International Ergonomics Association (IEA), 2000, defines ergonomics as “the scientific discipline concerned with the fundamental understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” It is critical to enhancing occupational health and safety management by reducing risks of injury or disease and improving the quality of working life.

Good ergonomics is also found to have a positive impact on productivity and employee morale of workers by reducing staff turnover and absenteeism. It encompasses:

  • The physical design aspects of the workspace
  • Work organization and task design
  • Job content and control over workload
  • Support and training
  • The social and managerial environment

Impact of Poor Ergonomics

Labour Force Survey (LFS) in the UK revealed that 480,000 workers suffered from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (new or longstanding) in 2019/20, leading to a loss of 8.9 million working days.

While it is a challenge to provide the optimum workspace in the office environment, the Covid-19 pandemic has compelled people to work from home, which may not be equipped to provide a working environment that aligns with the ergonomic principles. According to one survey, while 45% reported back and joint pain since they started working from home, 71% found – either their existing pain had worsened, or it was a new development.

For employers, this means ensuring that the workers have access to ergonomic space when even at home and allocating budgets to provide appropriate desks and chairs to create the right physical and mental space to be able to work without the risk of injury or illness.

Prevention, The Key

With timely intervention, the impact of poor ergonomics can be reversed. It requires maintaining a good posture including:

  • Sitting upright in a chair with back support
  • Legs parallel to the floor or slightly inclined forward
  • Head in an upright position
  • Wrist and forearm relaxed

To achieve this, ensure that the seat rake is upright and that the lumbar support is set to the correct height. The screen height should be at eye level to encourage upright posture.

The forearms should be horizontal and the arms should be parallel to the desk. The wrists should be in a piano player’s position with elbows close to the body. Leave some space in front of the keyboard to rest the arms.

There should be no pressure under the legs or behind the knees. Use a footrest if the feet are not firmly on the floor. Have clear space under the desk.

Do simple stretches for two minutes every hour or whenever you feel stiff to relieve your aching muscles.

The Six Principles of an Ergonomic Work Space

In its guideline, OSHA recommends six elements that are crucial for a successful ergonomic program to be followed at work. These are also applicable to a certain extent for ensuring the comfort of the employees when working from home and include:

  • Management leadership and employee participation
  • Hazard identification and information sharing with employees
  • Job hazard analysis and control
  • Training
  • MSD management
  • Ergonomic program evaluation

Maintaining records of the efforts taken can also ensure that the workplace continues to remain employee-friendly. Prolonged issues due to poor ergonomics can be debilitating, leading to absenteeism or even the inability to work. To mitigate these problems, businesses are allocating budgets to provide ergonomics programs to their employees. Periodic reviews of the comfort and well-being of employees working from home will not only ensure timely redressal of problems, if any but also improve their trust, productivity, and efficiency.

Ergonomic furniture is available to suit different budgets and should be supplied to the employees. But more than that, training, awareness, and constant review can help businesses ensure the correct work environment is created at home too to motivate the employee to continue to perform to their optimum level.

ComplianceQuest’s EHS solution can be fine-tuned to track the training program for ergonomics, conduct periodic reviews, and receive feedback that can help improve the program better. To find out more, contact us here:

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