Back to Basics: Remote Work Ergonomics

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Posted by: CMR August 3, 2023 No Comments

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work became increasingly more common and has been incorporated into many organizations. Employees can now either work entirely from home, or in a hybrid setting where they only visit the office sometimes. Safety professionals must be aware of the hazards that can occur in home offices and workspaces, specifically regarding ergonomics, and solutions for workers to avoid them.

OSHA policy

According to OSHA, the Department of Labor strongly supports telecommuting and telework, and they believe that family-friendly, flexible, and fair work arrangements can benefit individual employees and their families, employers, and society as a whole. OSHA defines a home-based worksite as the area of an employee’s personal residence where the employee performs the work of the employer. A home office consists of office work activities in a home-based worksite, and such activities may include the use of office equipment.

OSHA respects the privacy of the home and will no conduct inspections of employees’ home offices, nor will they hold employers liable for employees’ home offices. OSHA does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees, either. If OSHA receives a complaint about a home office, the complainant will be advised of OSHA’s policy, and if an employee makes a specific request, OSHA may informally let employers know of complaints about home office conditions, but will not follow up with the employer or employee.

OSHA will only conduct inspections of other home-based worksites, such as home manufacturing operations, when OSHA receives a complaint or referral that indicates that a violation of a safety or health standard exists that threatens physical harm, or that an imminent danger exists, including reports of a work-related fatality. The scope of this kind of inspection in an employee’s home is limited to the employee’s work activities since the OSH Act does not apply to an employee’s house or furnishings.

Employers are responsible for home worksites when there are hazards caused by materials, equipment, or work processes which the employer provides or requires to be used in the employee’s home. If a complaint or referral is received about hazards at an employee’s home-based worksite, the applicable policies and procedures for conducting inspections and responding to complaints will be followed.

Employers who are required, because of their size or industry classification, by the OSH Act to keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses, will continue to be responsible for keeping such records, regardless of whether the injuries occur in the factory, in a home office, or elsewhere, as long as they are work-related, and meet the recordability criteria of 29 CFR Part 1904.

Remote ergonomics

Many of the ergonomic hazards that occur in an office can also occur at home. Proper lighting, chair selection, and technology positioning can all help prevent ergonomic injuries from occurring, and ultimately keep employees safe and healthy at home.

The Harvard Campus Services Environmental Health and Safety department provides a fact sheet on remote work ergonomics, with tips and tricks for setting up an at-home workstation. The first step is to carefully select a designated work area, which should consist of a standard table that will allow for better body positioning.

Be mindful of lighting. Too much light or glare can cause discomfort, so sit perpendicular to any windows in the workspace, or close the blinds. Insufficient light can also cause eye strain, so if there is limited light in the workspace, place task lighting angled behind the screen.

Couches provide no stability and stiff chairs cause discomfort, so use a comfortable chair, and add lumbar support at the “s” curve of the spine. If one is available, use an adjustable chair to achieve a 90-degree bend in the knee. If the chair is too tall, prop up the feet to the appropriate height, and if it is too low, extend the feet to promote circulation or sit on a cushion.

In terms of technology, Harvard recommends that workers use a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for extended periods of remote work, if possible. When using a laptop, be sure to elevate the screen to just below the line of vision and connect an additional keyboard and mouse for an ideal height while typing. Connect to an alternative display device using a mobile adapter if that option is available.

While using a phone or tablet, employees should continuously change their grip posture to ensure load rotation and alternate between use of their thumbs and fingers to reduce repetitive motions. Use the phone’s hands-free option to eliminate awkward postures and use the voice recognition or text-to-speech functions. It is also helpful to increase font size to avoid eye strain.

Lastly, there are a few ergonomic reminders that Harvard recommends. Workers must be aware of their posture and maintain neutral positioning. They should take one- to two-minute breaks every half hour to stretch and take advantage of any opportunity to move their body and maintain adequate blood flow. Employees should also give their eyes a break from the screen and use the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eye fatigue. To do this, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.

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Article Written By: By Grace Hatfield, EHS Daily Advisor

Author: CMR

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