Since the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the exodus from offices to remote work, many employers have lost the ability to ensure their staff have proper workstations and that they are taking steps to reduce the physical stresses of sitting for prolonged periods of time.
People are working from kitchen tables, sofas, sitting on the floor at a coffee table, or using a myriad of chairs and makeshift desks that are not suitable for long hours of sitting and typing.
Working from home also reduces the number of times your employees get up from their desks, since there are no colleagues around to chat with or join for a coffee or lunch.
It’s important for employers to think of a worker’s home office as an extension of their at-work office. OSHA requires that employers take steps to reduce the chance of injury to their workers, regardless of if they’re lifting heavy boxes or doing computer work wherever they are working.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
To protect your workers from ergonomic and other injuries, here are some steps you can take (some of these recommendations can apply to in-office staff as well):
Provide a workplace safety checklist — A safety checklist can help your remote workers set up an ergonomically correct home workspace. Common questions that employees may be asked to consider include the following:
- Is the floor area clear and free of tripping hazards?
- Do file cabinet drawers open into paths of travel?
- Are phone lines and charging cables secured under a desk or along a wall?
- Are rugs secured to the floor and free of frayed or worn seams?
- Is there a working smoke detector in the vicinity of the workspace?
- Are radiators and portable space heaters located away from flammable items?
- Are electrical plugs and outlets in good working order, with no exposed or damaged wiring?
- Does the office chair provide adequate lumbar support?
- Have the monitor and keyboard been set up in an ergonomic manner?
Offer to provide ergonomic equipment — You may want to offer to cover the cost of a desk and proper office chair for workers who telecommute, to ensure that they have an ergonomic workstation. This is a smart move to avert a potential workers’ comp claim in the future and to keep them from developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or other problems. You can pay for it or have the employee pay and get reimbursed.
Designate a dedicated work area — If possible, employees should have a dedicated work area. This helps to minimize the likelihood of injury. It also helps to keep them focused during the workday.
Generally speaking, you have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all of your employees. However, you do not have a responsibility to cover the costs of remote work equipment, although most employers will cover the cost of a laptop.
If your worker does not have a proper workstation, you can choose whether to cover the cost of a proper chair, desk, and other accessories — or have them purchase it themselves.
Besides having proper furniture and an area to work, you can advise your staff to follow these simple tips:
- Don’t ignore discomfort: If you begin to feel even a mild ache or minor numbness as you sit at your desk, it’s important to act on it right away. Try to figure out what is causing the discomfort and mend the problem. Although your soreness may seem insignificant now, it could eventually develop into chronic pain if you don’t heed your body’s warning signals.
- Get moving: Don’t sit in the same position for hours on end. Try to get up and move around every hour to prevent blood circulation problems and muscle fatigue. Simply stand up and stretch or take a quick walk around the office or home.
- Stay neutral: It’s important to keep your joints in a “neutral” position as you work at your computer desk. For example, if you hold your wrist at an improper angle as you type or move your computer mouse, you could develop chronic pain or even carpal tunnel syndrome, which can lead to pain and require surgery.
- Keep your workstation ergonomically correct: If you are experiencing discomfort at your desk, you may need to readjust your workstation. You might need to raise, lower, or reposition your keyboard to keep your wrists neutral and your elbows close to the body.
Following these tips will help keep your remote workers healthy. Workers’ compensation claims can be costly, and it just makes sense. For more tips on small business support, sign up for our eNewsletter by reaching out to Shannon@vma.bz.