Ergonomics concepts can be traced back to WWII when it was first used to assist pilots—minimizing fatigue, reducing error and keeping pilots flying longer. Shifting to today, we’re dealing with the health effects from computer overuse while working from home and injuries from handheld devices, like “texter’s neck” and “gamer’s thumb.” In this session at RIMS 2021, Michelle Despres, Vice President of Physical Therapy at One Call, discusses ergonomics best practices for employees working from home and the cost reduction for employers when an ergonomics program is established.
Working From Home
A recently published article from The Stanford Institute provides valuable insight into the number of people working from home currently and how it has shifted over the course of the pandemic. As of June 2020, 42% were working from home, with 33% not working and 26% working on-premises. By October 2020, 33% were fully remote, shifting to 71% working from home in December 2020. By the end of 2021, it is predicted that 25-30%, or 1 in 4 employees, will be working from home, with 74% of companies shifting to more work from home opportunities. Post-COVID-19, there is an expected hybrid model from employers, offering 1-3 days a week of working from home.
When considering an ergonomics program, injury prevention provides the most value to any additional cost. These programs can help identify and qualify risk factors, identify ergonomics adjustments or equipment modifications to better fit the employee, and can identify ergonomic control measures to mitigate the risk of injury. Consider that ongoing ergonomic injuries are also very costly, with a carpal tunnel claim costing $30-60k on average and a cumulative trauma injury costing $36-$88k on average. Presenteeism or people that are continuing to work with discomfort, along with absenteeism, are also costly, considering the time and money it takes to replace those individuals when they eventually need time off for related injuries. Alternatively, a preventative ergonomics program for 1000 employees costs $39k on average, a fraction of a related claim cost, and includes technology-driven self-assessments, professional ergonomist intervention and equipment procurement.
Cumulative Trauma Disorders
Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) develop from microtrauma that occurs regularly and accumulates over time, exceeding the body’s ability to repair itself. Further damage can lead to tissue scarring, changes in tissue chemistry, inflammation, degenerative changes and functional limitations. Common CTDs include tendonitis, tenosynovitis, bursitis, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, sprains, strains and overuse.
Injury Trends Possibly Tied to Remote Work
Consistent with the expected change in the remote workforce without planning for a change in work environment, injuries are expected to increase, including:
- Wrist or forearm strain / strain / contusion – 10.3%
- Pain in hand / finger – 13.2%
- Cervical radiculopathy – 16.2%
- Carpal tunnel syndrome – 17.9%
- Low back pain – 24.6%
Ergonomic Risk Factors
The three most common risk factors that contribute to the development of CTDs include:
- Contact stress – Force that occurs from hard surfaces against the soft surface of the skin. These compress the tendons, nerves and vessels. Examples include the edge of a desktop or keyboard tray.
- Static positioning – Not taking breaks and continuing to sit in the same position for hours.
- Awkward postures – Sitting in a non-ergonomically correct environment, like the kitchen table or couch, in a non-neutral position.
Ergonomics Control Measures and Self-Assessments
Control measures can help shift the risk of injury and provide more comfort to employees. Engineering controls include modifying the work, changing the area layout, production quotas, workstation dimensions, and proper equipment and tools. Administrative controls include modifying the organization of the work itself, task rotation, break schedules, shift work, education and stretching. Personal equipment includes providing equipment, reducing exposure to hazards or risk factors with PPE, swapping out chairs or desks, and updating the equipment.
Self-screening tools can correct measures and be offer proactive management as part of an ergonomics program. These self-screening assessments can also help identify which employees have discomfort, areas of improvement, pinpointing equipment needs and reporting for next steps. This AI can help suggest what purchases need to be made to assist employees, offering a cost-effective and customizable approach.
Remote Work Solutions
When sitting at your remote work station, there are many items to consider, but this checklist can help adjust your posture to minimize discomfort:
- Monitor should be arm’s length from the face with the top level with your eyes. Watch out for glare and if using a laptop, consider an external monitor and keyboard.
- Keyboard use should include relaxed shoulders, elbows at 90-100 degrees, straight wrists, and the mouse should be close to your keyboard.
- With typing and mousing, wrist posture should be neutral and you should avoid side bending of the wrist.
- If sitting, feet should be flat on the floor or supported, with the low back supported and space behind knees.
- If standing, elbows should be neutral, with shoulders relaxed, and correct standing posture.