Written By Daniel Aday, CompOne Administrators Safety & Loss Prevention Specialist
While several companies still require employees to work either on job-site, at location or on the road, many are now having some positions work from home for the foreseeable future. Employers are finding that productivity and employee morale tends to increase, and office expenses and utility bills seem to drop, when we shift to working at home. However, something employers are finding more often now, is that working from home can be an ergonomic nightmare! Whether it is back strain, a sore neck or early carpel tunnel, most ergonomic injuries take months to become a recognized problem and take even longer to heal. Those working from home should consider these three ergonomic factors: a proper chair, a proper working surface and a proper environment.
Although it may seem like a good idea to set up shop on the living room recliner and begin reading emails while sitting in comfort, it absolutely should not be considered. Yes, it is comfortable to sit on a recliner or the couch but there is a difference that should be understood between something that is comfortable and something that is ergonomic. An ergonomic chair would imply that you are able to freely sit in it for the duration of your work day and not have any aches or pains. The difference between something that is comfy and something that is ergonomic, is that a comfy chair does not promote adequate posture and allows your muscles to relax for extended periods of time, eventually weakening them and increasing the chance of injury. Ideally, a rated office chair will promote sitting upright and support the natural curve of your back, while also allowing your feet to rest on the floor with your knees slightly below your hips.
While the name implies that you could use it without a desk, a laptop should be treated the same as a computer when working from home – having an external keyboard, mouse and monitor. The importance of having a secondary or primary monitor for your work station at a proper height cannot be understated. The top of your monitor should be just below your eye level and about arm’s length away. This keeps your neck and head level and you do not end up with a sore or strained neck. A keyboard, separate from the laptop, if possible, should be just below elbow height, which leads us to the most important aspect of this factor: an adequate working surface is a must. A work surface that is too tall is going to create a hard corner that is going to pinch a lot of nerves and lead to long term issues, such as carpel tunnel. A work surface that is too short is going to have you leaning forward and lead to back problems that come with slouching. Additionally, ensure the surface you are working on has plenty of space that does not cramp or limit your working area.
Lastly, working from home should be treated very similarly to working in the office. You should have a designated working area that is free of clutter, tripping hazards, excessive noise and anything else that could cause injury while working. This not only ensures a safe working environment, but also promotes productivity. Even though someone may be in their own household, if someone is within their working hours and they are injured as a result of something that could be work-related (such as tripping while walking over to a printer) the injury could be considered work-related. Additionally, at-home safety audits can be done to see where there may be hazards of working in your own home.
Since home office environments are so incredibly different from typical office environments, there is no “one size fits all” procedure, practice or recommendation. As long as you stick to the three main factors – having a proper chair, an adequate working surface and an environment that promotes safe working – you will be headed in the right direction!
If you have any specific questions in regards to your working area, recommendations on ergonomic equipment or anything else safety or ergonomic related, please feel free to reach out to Daniel Aday at firstname.lastname@example.org.