What a strange time we’re experiencing right now – as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread, many businesses and organizations have had to quickly develop telecommuting policies for their employees. Employees have had to quickly create a workspace very different from their normal routine.
While we’ve faced many challenges during this pandemic, working from home comes with its own set of challenges. As we find ourselves working from home for a prolonged period of time, it is especially important to take steps to prevent ergonomic injuries. Taking small steps can go a long way to injury prevention at home.
Ergonomics is defined as the science of fitting a workspace to an individual’s needs and capabilities. Ergonomics aims to increase efficiency and productivity while reducing discomfort and the likelihood of injury.
Many factors of ergonomics may be taken for granted in the workplace and be severely lacking in a home environment. For example, while at the office, you likely have access to a suitable desk and chair, but when you work from home, you might not have an ideal setup.
Poor ergonomics can lead to not only reduced employee efficiency, but also a number of health issues that may have long-lasting effects, including damage to muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. Musculoskeletal disorders can be caused by a wide variety of tasks, many of which may seem innocent, such as sitting for extended periods of time with poor posture or having to bend or reach repeatedly.
In order to make your home a suitable work environment, there are several factors that you should consider for your workspace. These include:
Chair — A chair with back support is ideal for working as opposed to a stool to maintain good posture. Chairs should also allow for adjustments so that your feet can rest flat on the floor and your knees will rest at, or just below hip level. If your chair is non-adjustable and too high you can put a reem of paper or book below your feet for support to create a suitable leg position.
Desk — Use a work surface, such as a desk or table, that has space underneath for your legs and feet. If a work surface is slightly too high, you can use a 3 ring binder (narrow side toward you) to create a positive tilt on your laptop or keyboard for a straighter wrist position. Get creative with your countertops for a standing option. Depending on your height, you may find a countertop or dresser that accommodates a standing position intermittently, if the surface is at or just below elbow level. Cushion your wrists from the surface edge with padding or a wrist rest for the base of your palm on while working.
Screen — Arrange your laptop or monitor screen directly in front of you and approximately an arm’s length away with the top of the screen at, or slightly below, eye level if possible. Make sure to position your screen in a place that limits glare such as avoiding a window that faces your screen or an overhead light that creates poor visibility. Remember if you are using a laptop with a smaller screen, it is good to use the 20/20/20 or 30/30/30 rule to help create optimal eye function. Every 20-30 minutes, look 20’-30’ away for 20-30 seconds.
Layout — Organize files and materials so that you don’t have to constantly bend and strain to reach them. Also keep items like a cell phone, mouse and work materials distributed to both sides of your body to create a bilateral work layout.
Equipment — When using a keyboard and mouse, keep them on the same surface with the keyboard at the center of your body. Position your arms so that your hands are aligned with, or slightly below, your elbows. Make sure your wrists are straight and your upper arms stay close to your body. If you use the phone frequently, put it on speaker or use a headset in order to avoid having to cradle the phone between your head and shoulder. This awkward posture can create tension in your neck.
In addition to arranging your workspace properly, you should also be aware of new risk factors that may be present. Be careful not to overload electrical outlets or create tripping hazards with power strips or extension cords running across the floor of your home.
Even while at the office, employees shouldn’t spend eight straight hours sitting at their desks. This applies to working at home as well. Take regular breaks to stand, stretch and move around at least every 30 minutes. If you cannot leave your seat, make sure to change postures every 10-15 minutes.
Working from home has its pros and cons. While your home may not be the ideal work environment, utilizing these strategies can go a long way toward preventing unnecessary injuries.
Elizabeth attended Tri-State University and earned a BS in Marketing. Prior to starting her career with GIS, she worked in health and wellness for 10 years specializing in healthy lifestyle change and chronic disease prevention. She is a Certified Personal Trainer (American Council on Exercise) with a specialty in Orthopedic and Cancer Rehabilitation. She also holds a Level II Ergonomic Assessment Specialist Certification (CEAS II), and serves as a Certified Lifestyle Coach (CLC). Elizabeth resides in La Porte County with her husband Jeff and their children. In 2018, she joined the Board of Directors for Healthy Communities of La Porte County to help support programs that improve quality of life for residents.