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The Future Workplace: Ergonomics for Remote Workers

  • Published
  • 2 April 2021
  • Category
  • General

This is the second part of a periodic series on The Future Workplace. This post is by WorkCare’s Marketing & Communications Assistant Todd Roth and Bryan Reich, Director of our Industrial Athlete Program.

Long before the pandemic, many companies had already adopted hybrid staffing models that give employees the flexibility to work remotely as business needs allow.

These models, which take advantage of advanced communications technology, will not fade away. Research shows that productivity among remote workers has remained the same, and in some cases increased, as employees have adjusted to COVID-19 exposure protection measures. However, ergonomic-related injuries have increased along with the number of people who now work remotely.

In the future, experts predict ergonomic programs will be an integral part of total worker health strategies and wellness checkups for early detection of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and the development of targeted interventions. It’s already happening.

Ergonomic Injury Risk

When employees work remotely, inconsistencies in work-space setups increase ergonomic-related injury risk. Consider a customer service representative who hunches over a laptop in her bedroom, an accountant whose perch is a kitchen countertop, a security guard taking an online college class while sitting a small booth, or a commercial driver who loads products, makes deliveries and stays in his truck while updating electronic records.

These are just a few examples of remote workers who are susceptible to developing MSDs, which can become costly work-related injuries without early evaluation and preventive coaching. According to a recent presentation by Mercer, a Marsh McLennan company specializing in employee well-being and benefits management, the average cost of an MSD-related workers’ compensation claim is $17,000 and sometimes exceeds $30,000.

MSDs affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. They may be caused by lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, reaching, working in awkward body postures or doing repetitive tasks.

The risk of developing an MSD increases when there is no warm-up prior to work (even when a job is sedentary), the person is overweight or not physically fit, and when early warning signs (aches and pains) are ignored. MSD symptoms include stiff joints, shooting pains and dull aches, swelling and weakness. The back, neck, shoulders and knees are among the body parts most commonly affected.

According to a recent survey by Mercer, two out of five Americans now report new or increased pain in the back, shoulders and wrists. Research also indicates a 10-16 percent increase in MSDs in the past year.

MSD Prevention

In the future workplace, it will be essential for employers to keep up with advances in ergonomics and provide resources to remote workers to reduce their MSD risk. Examples include:

  • Providing educational courses to maximize ergonomic safety
  • Encouraging employees to take breaks, stretch and move around during the workday
  • Investing in ergonomic equipment and workstations to reduce injury risk

 The following elements are recommended for inclusion in a workplace ergonomics program:

  1. Support: Define program goals and objectives, assign responsibilities to designated team members and orient all employees to the plan.
  2. Engage: Invite employees to provide insights from their perspective and incorporate their suggestions in your program. Examples include worksite assessments, solution development and implementation strategies.
  3. Train: Training ensures that workers are aware of ergonomic principles and their benefits, and why it’s important to report MSD symptoms at onset so interventions can begin before an injury occurs.
  4. Evaluate: Adopt evaluation and corrective action procedures to periodically assess program effectiveness and promote continuous quality improvement.

Remember, there is not a one-size-fits-all ergonomics program for all types and sizes of people. When conducting onsite or remote assessments, there are several factors to consider in order to improve safety and protect health. They include behaviors (e.g., taking breaks, stretching, drinking water, sitting/standing); chair, computer monitor, keyboard and mouse adjustments; and equipment needs such as hand-held devices, tools, headphones, footrests, and glare and noise reduction.

WorkCare’s Solution

MSDs are largely preventable, but fatigue, repetition and overexertion still often result in costly injuries. Visit our Onsite Services & Clinics webpage and scroll down to learn more about our cost-effective Industrial Athlete Program, Bio-Ergonomic Surveillance and Industrial Massage solutions.

 

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