How to develop an ergonomics program for remote workers

As COVID-19 spiked around the world in early 2020, businesses have shifted to remote work en masse. Many organizations told themselves that things would go back to normal once the threat of COVID-19 receded, but more than two years later, it’s clear that the pandemic marked a turning point, not a brief pause in the way where we do business.

The data shows that the pandemic has changed the way employers and employees view the future of the office environment. Some organizations continue to look at hybrid options, while others see fully remote options as talent recruitment and retention tools. In fact, according to a recent study from Stanford University, hybrid job options for a large technology company reduced attrition rates by 35%.

When it comes to hybrid options, for those whose jobs can be done from home, more than half of employees report that they prefer to work fewer than three days a week in the office.

Despite these benefits, many work-from-home environments are fraught with health and safety risks. To protect employees from injury and guard against skyrocketing workers’ compensation costs, employers must prioritize the safety and well-being of their home-based workforce. This starts by addressing a main risk that remote work poses: poor ergonomics.

It’s common to hear about home workers slumping over a laptop while sitting on a couch or awkwardly at the kitchen counter or table. Remote workers often lack access to adjustable office equipment or knowledge of how to optimize their home environment for an ideal ergonomic setup.

To make matters worse, workers may spend more hours at home in these awkward body positions. In environments with unmanaged ergonomic risks, occupational injury rates will increase. We typically associate wrist and hand injuries with computer work, but risk is also common to the lower back, shoulders, neck, eyes, elbows, and forearms.

“It’s a growing problem,” says Katherine Mendoza, director of EHS for the National Safety Council. “A lot of companies, if they don’t see an increase (in musculoskeletal disorders yet), they probably will, and this is an opportunity for companies to start thinking about it.”

Experts argue that ergonomic injuries typically take six to 12 months to develop, making early detection and proactive interventions important. In fact, by mid-2020, 41% of all workers were already reporting new or increased pain in their shoulders, back, or wrists.

Increased pain, discomfort, and injuries negatively affect employee morale, well-being, and productivity. Beyond individual harm, ergonomics issues can also contribute to high direct and indirect costs that affect company operations and financial performance.

“Embracing a culture of prevention is critical in this new environment, as it allows companies to detect early warning signs of problems, such as aches and pains, and take action before injuries develop,” says Kevin Costello, Ergonomist and President from New York. US based ergonomics

Collecting accurate, real-time data on employee work behavior and risk exposure was key to managing ergonomic risk in the office before the pandemic. But when employees are effectively invisible working remotely, collecting accurate risk data in real time becomes even more necessary.

For a company to be effective at managing ergonomic risk, it must have visibility into what is happening in the workplace, even if that workplace now extends into employees’ homes. When an organization lacks this visibility into risk, it becomes increasingly difficult to detect poor employee workstation setup or risky behaviors and provide recommendations to address these concerns.

Digital solutions that engage employees in regular risk assessment and empower them to address these issues early can make the difference between controlling injuries or being controlled by them. When determining which software solution can help you manage ergonomic risks in your remote workplace, consider the following:

1. Invite employees to play a role in risk management.

Many employees are unaware that specific behaviors or even the design of their workstations can increase the risk of soft tissue injuries. Often the first step in managing ergonomic risks is to receive education about where risks exist in the work environment.

When considering a software solution, it is crucial to select one that offers tools to help increase employee awareness of ergonomic risk while also allowing them to assess their own level of risk exposure by considering their personal and professional work behaviors. workstation layouts. Additionally, these tools should help guide employees in corrective actions. Platforms that help highlight critical concerns and focus attention on issues relevant to the individual worker are immensely helpful in engaging and keeping employees engaged in occupational health and safety programs.

2. Promote self-awareness and behavior change.

Simply designing more ergonomic workstations will not guarantee an injury-free workplace. People can still engage in poor posture and unsafe work behaviors in an ideal work environment.

Therefore, employers must constantly engage each employee and encourage them to continually assess how they are working, how it might affect their exposure to risk, and suggest changes to ensure hazards are actively managed. Engage employees to drive this level of self-awareness and behavioral self-reflection to empower them to take corrective action.

Software solutions that monitor work patterns and encourage regular breaks with movement can be effective in promoting increased circulation and reducing muscle fatigue. And tools that increase body awareness, like noticing sitting postures or wrist position on a keyboard, can help reduce static posture that can lead to stiffness.

It is important to note that these solutions will only be effective if they are sophisticated enough to work with employees rather than create resistance. For example, activity-based reminders are better received than time-based ones. Ensuring that employees can continually assess their exposure to ergonomic risk and make small adjustments to the way they work helps create a culture of continuous improvement.

Resolutions can be individualized, but a formal ergonomic system introduces an underlying culture of acceptance and awareness. When employees experience company-provided prompts for body awareness and mental health breaks, they may feel less stigma for raising an ergonomics-related issue with a supervisor or colleague.

3. Focus on the individual.

Sustainable ergonomic risk management requires employee ownership, as your ergonomics experts cannot be everywhere at the same time. Leveraging technology to personalize your ergonomics program for each employee ensures that the solutions and data are relevant to them and gives them the opportunity not only to find problems but also to fix them. After all, employees who are really exposed to danger have the most to gain by improving the ergonomics of their office.

Any ergonomics software solution being considered should include features that help guide and empower employees to resolve identified risks, including the ability to create individual action plans that offer research-based recommendations on how employees can address the risks. risks for themselves easily and profitably. Ideally, when the software detects a problem, employees will have a way to take immediate action, such as contacting someone within their organization or an external security expert.

And while ergonomic recommendations need to be customized, system-wide data aggregation is also powerful. If you can show all employees how ergonomic risks are identified, assessed, and resolved, it will help gain buy-in and ensure future success.

4. Provide employees with feedback loops.

Finally, a good solution will include ways for employees to close the loop by indicating when and how an ergonomics issue has been resolved or is being addressed.

Continuous reminders allow employees to reflect on their progress, receive refreshers on the importance of certain ergonomic adjustments, and prioritize their mental and physical health in shorter ways. Over time, microlearning allows for greater awareness of ergonomic concerns to reduce injuries and keep those instances down. Employees can also report back on the ways they have addressed and managed potential risks, helping to strengthen a long-term ergonomics program.

final thoughts

“The solution doesn’t have to be a new desk or chair,” says the NSC’s Mendoza. “There are a lot of great solutions out there to lower the risk and make the employee feel more comfortable. “It’s very important to involve employees as part of the solution.”

The success that many of our clients have had in reducing ergonomic risks in their workforce is due to their focus on employee engagement. They designed their ergonomics program to be easy to use, relevant, and engaging. His program also prioritized the needs and interests of employees.

High-performing organizations that implement a workforce-driven ergonomics program and successfully engage employees will not only be positioned to overcome the challenges of keeping remote employees safe; they will also be better equipped to adapt to whatever changes in the workplace lie ahead.

Ron Goodman is Product Manager for Ergonomics at Cority, a global provider of enterprise EHS software. He developed RSIGuard, an award-winning desktop ergonomics software solution that reduces the impact of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) for office workers. With more than 20 years of software engineering and research experience focused on optimizing the health and safety of the workplace for office and knowledge workers, Goodman has been at the forefront of leveraging technology to improve work experiences. users and support injury prevention.

Leave a Comment