How to Develop an Ergonomics Program for Remote Workers

As COVID-19 peaked around the world in early 2020, businesses massively shifted to remote working. Many organizations told themselves that things would return to normal once the threat of COVID-19 passed, but more than two years later, it is clear that the pandemic has marked a turning point, not a brief pause in the way we live. to do business.

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

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

Despite these benefits, many work-from-home environments carry numerous 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 the main risk posed by remote working: poor ergonomics.

It’s common to hear of home workers slouching over a laptop while sitting on a couch or awkwardly located at the kitchen counter or table. Often, remote workers don’t have access to adjustable office equipment or don’t know how to optimize their home environment for an ideal ergonomic setup.

To make matters worse, workers may find themselves spending more hours at home in these awkward body positions. In environments where ergonomic risks are not managed, the rates of occupational accidents will increase. We usually associate wrist and hand injuries with computer work, but the risk is also common for the lower back, shoulders, neck, eyes, elbows and forearms.

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

Experts say ergonomic injuries normally take six to 12 months to develop, making early detection and proactive interventions important. Indeed, as of mid-2020, 41% of all workers were already reporting new or increased shoulder, back or wrist pain.

The increase in pain, discomfort and injury negatively impacts employee morale, well-being and productivity. Beyond individual harm, ergonomics issues can also contribute to high direct and indirect costs that affect business operations and financial performance.

“Embracing a culture of prevention is key in this new environment because it enables companies to spot early warning signs of problems, such as pain and discomfort, and take action before injuries occur. develop,” says Kevin Costello, ergonomist and president of New York. based on American ergonomics.

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

For a company to be effective in managing ergonomic risks, 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 employee desktop misconfiguration or risky behavior, as well as provide recommendations to address these concerns.

Digital solutions that engage employees in regular risk assessment and allow them to address these issues early can be 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 workstation can increase the risk of soft tissue injury. Often, the first step in ergonomic risk management is to inform about where risks exist in the working environment.

When considering a software solution, it is essential to choose one that offers tools to help increase employee awareness of ergonomic risks while allowing employees to assess their own level of risk exposure taking into account their personal work behaviors and the design of workstations. In addition, these tools should help guide employees on corrective actions. Platforms that help highlight critical concerns and draw attention to issues relevant to the individual worker are extremely helpful in engaging and keeping employees involved 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 postures and unsafe work behaviors in an ideal work environment.

Therefore, employers should systematically engage every employee and encourage them to continually assess the way they work, how it might impact their risk exposure, and suggest changes to ensure risks are actively managed. Engage employees to drive this level of self-awareness and behavioral self-reflection to enable them to take corrective action.

Software solutions that monitor work habits and encourage regular breaks with movement can be effective in promoting increased circulation and reducing muscle fatigue. Additionally, tools that increase body awareness, such as noticing seated postures or wrist position on a keyboard, can help reduce the static position 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 creating resistance. For example, activity-based reminders are received better than time-based ones. Ensuring that employees can continuously assess their exposure to ergonomic risks 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 are confronted with company-provided prompts to become aware of their bodies and take mental health breaks, they may feel less stigma when raising an ergonomics-related issue with a supervisor or manager. coworker.

3. Focus on the individual.

Sustainable ergonomics risk management requires employee ownership, because your ergonomics experts can’t be everywhere at once. Leveraging technology to customize your ergonomics program for each employee ensures the solutions and data are relevant to them and empowers them to not only find problems, but to solve them. After all, employees who are actually at risk have the most to gain from improving their office ergonomics.

Any considered ergonomics software solution 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 self-manage risk easily and cost-effectively. Ideally, when the software detects a problem, employees will have a way to take immediate action, such as contacting someone in their organization or an external security expert.

And while ergonomic recommendations should be personalized, aggregating data from across the system is also powerful. If you can show all employees how ergonomic hazards are identified, assessed, and resolved, it will help you 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 usability issue has been resolved or is being resolved.

Ongoing reminders allow employees to reflect on their progress, receive reminders about the importance of certain ergonomic adjustments, and prioritize their mental and physical health more succinctly. Over time, micro-learning allows for greater awareness of ergonomic issues to reduce injuries and reduce these instances. Employees can also report on how they have addressed and managed potential hazards, helping to strengthen a long-term ergonomics program.

Final Thoughts

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

If many of our clients have succeeded in reducing ergonomic risks among their staff, it is because they have focused on employee engagement. They designed their ergonomics program to be easy to use, relevant and engaging. Their program also prioritized the needs and interests of employees.

Successful organizations that deploy a workforce-focused ergonomics program and successfully engage employees will not only be able to overcome the challenges of remote employee safety; they will also be better equipped to adapt to upcoming changes in the workplace.

Ron Goodman is Usability Product Manager at Cority, a global provider of enterprise EHS software. He developed RSIGuard, an award-winning office ergonomic software solution that reduces the impact of repetitive strain injury (RSI) for office workers. With over 20 years of research and software engineering experience focused on optimizing the health and safety of the work environment for knowledge/office workers, Goodman has been at the forefront -care for the use of technology to improve user experiences and support injury prevention.

Ryan H. Bowman