This year’s National Safety Month comes at a time when concerns for worker safety—amid the global COVID-19 pandemic—are at an all-time high. The sudden directive to work from home didn’t give organizational leaders much time to plan or implement new guidelines. Many workers set up their home offices without the understanding that a poor set up can increase the risk of developing soft tissue injuries. While most of us expected to be back in the office in a few weeks, the reality is that kitchen counters, basements, and even sofas have become “the office” for several months now.
In the recent webinar, “Restarting Work: Optimizing Human Performance” presented during VelocityEHS’ virtual event, The Short Conference, Director of Ergonomics Research Blake McGowan polled attendees on worker stress and muscular discomfort resulting since COVID-19. Eighty-nine percent of respondents reported their workers were experiencing the same to significantly more stress and muscular discomfort. When asked if they expected workplace musculoskeletal disorders to decrease or increase once employees return to work, 95% felt it would either stay the same or increase.
Working from Home – Office Ergonomics
Will working from home become the norm for office employees? COVID-19 proved that employees were just as productive working from home, if not more so. But work-life balance seemed to be, well…out-of-balance. Despite that, we’ll see a large population of workers who commuted every day to an office, continue to make their kitchen counter their preferred workspace well after COVID-19. EHS leaders need to understand both the positive and negative implications of this and provide the tools to enable them to work from home safely and effectively. The Work-from-Home Toolbox compiled by our team of board-certified ergonomists, offers tips, videos, webinars, handouts, and other resources for employees working from home.
Restarting Work – Industrial Ergonomics
Industrial workplaces are beginning to re-open and EHS professionals need to understand that that many workers have physically deconditioned from not working or working reduced hours during the pandemic. Physical deconditioning is defined as changes in the human body due to a reduction in physical activity. It may involve:
Reduced muscle strength
Reduced cardiovascular fitness
Reduced physical endurance
Reduced range of motion
Increased whole-body fatigue
For the industrial worker who works a physically demanding job, the absence of activity puts him or her at risk of injury. So, how do you prepare for employees’ safe return? To help employees restart work, encourage them to understand what ergonomics is and why it’s important. When they know the goal is to improve their health and wellness by mitigating risk in workstations and jobs, and optimizing their performance, they’ll know you care about them. The Restarting Work Toolbox provides links to articles and other resources that will give you more details and considerations.
COVID-19 brought fear to the workplace and into our homes. We’ve gone through a lot in the last few months, but we’ve also learned a lot and have become more adaptable human beings in the process. Workplaces will improve and our teams will be stronger because of it. That’s the silver lining.