In the wake of COVID-19, work-from-home is a new reality that has hit much of the corporate world. While telecommuters are now a major part of the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, employees who do not practice proper ergonomics at home could be risking injury and potentially costing their organizations unnecessary expense.

As workers adjust to the new normal, both in offices and at home, it’s important for employers to uphold their obligations to employees and encourage good ergonomic practices to prevent injury, promote productivity and protect themselves from liability.

The 8 Fundamental Principles of Ergonomics

  • Maintain Neutral Posture – Neutral postures occur when the body is aligned and balanced while either sitting or standing, placing minimal stress on the body and keeping joints aligned. Neutral postures minimize the stress applied to muscles, tendons, nerves and bones and allow for maximum control.
  • Work in the Power/Comfort Zone – This can also be called the “handshake zone” or “comfort zone.” The principle here is that if you can “shake hands with your work”, you are minimizing excessive reach and maintaining a neutral posture. Working from the power / comfort / handshake zone ensures that you are working from proper heights and reaches, which reduces musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risk factors and allows for more efficient and pain-free work.
  • Allow for Movement and Stretching – The musculoskeletal system is often referred to as the human body’s movement system, and it is designed to move. Working for long periods of time in a static position will cause your body to fatigue, otherwise known as static load. The first few seconds or minutes don’t seem too bad, but the cumulative effect of holding these seemingly stress-free positions over time will cause fatigue and discomfort.
  • Reduce Excessive Force – There are numerous conditions that affect force, but the idea is to recognize when a job or task requires excessive force and then find ways to reduce that force. Eliminating excessive force requirements will reduce worker fatigue and the risk of MSD formation in most workers. Using mechanical assists, counterbalance systems, adjustable height lift tables and workstations, powered equipment, and ergonomic tools will reduce work effort and muscle exertions.
  • Reduce Repetitive Motions – Many work tasks and cycles are repetitive in nature and are frequently controlled by hourly or daily production targets and work processes. High task repetition, when combined with other risks factors such as high force and/or awkward postures, can contribute to the formation of MSD. A job is considered highly repetitive if the cycle time is 30 seconds or less.
  • Provide Adequate Lighting – Poor lighting is a common problem in the workplace that can affect a worker’s comfort level and performance. Too much or too little light makes work difficult. Dimly lit work areas and/or glare can cause eye fatigue and headaches. At a computer workstation, take steps to control screen glare, and make sure that the monitor(s) is not placed in front of a window or a bright background.
  • Minimize Contact Stress – According to OSHA, contact stress results from continuous contact or rubbing between hard or sharp objects/surfaces and sensitive body tissue, such as soft tissue of the fingers, palms, thighs and feet. This contact creates localized pressure for a small area of the body, which can inhibit blood flow, nerve function, or movement of tendons and muscles. Examples of contact stress include resting wrists on the sharp edge of a desk or workstation while performing tasks, pressing of tool handles into the palms, especially when they cannot be put down, tasks that require hand hammering, and sitting without adequate space for the knees.
  • Reduce Excessive Vibration – Multiple studies have shown that regular and frequent exposure to vibration can lead to permanent adverse health effects, which are most likely to occur when contact with a vibrating tool or work process is a regular and significant part of a person’s job. Vibration syndrome has adverse circulatory and neural effects in the fingers such as numbness, pain, and blanching (turning pale and ashen).

By developing your “ergo eyes” and helping employees adhere to these fundamental ergonomic principles, you can help identify risk factors that often go unnoticed, measure that risk with an objective ergonomic evaluation and implement control measures to reduce/remove ergonomic risk factors.

In addition, Sequoia recommends reviewing these practical tools and guidelines to help you develop an ergonomic training and risk control program as part of your overall “work from home” program. Please contact your Sequoia Risk Advisor to discuss your specific remote worker ergonomic program, or connect with them directly in HRX.

Additional Ergonomic Resources

Disclaimer: This content is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, medical or tax advice. It provides general information and is not intended to encompass all compliance and legal obligations that may be applicable. This information and any questions as to your specific circumstances should be reviewed with your respective legal counsel and/or tax advisor as we do not provide legal or tax advice. Please note that this information may be subject to change based on legislative changes. © 2020 Sequoia Benefits & Insurance Services, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Mary Beth Downs – Mary Beth Downs is a Senior Risk Advisor for Sequoia, providing property and casualty consulting services to our clients helping them protect assets, scale in the marketplace, and manage risk. As a Bay Area resident for the past 27 years, she enjoys volunteering in her local community and traveling within the state as much as possible.