The term “home-office ergonomics” has gained popularity recently, and with good reason. In a broad sense, ergonomics involves fitting the work to the worker. Now that 42% of the U.S. workforce is working remotely, the home has become the new office for many. Unfortunately, many home setups include equipment that doesn’t fit the individual using it. At first, it may seem sustainable, but subtly, poor work environments can manifest as hassles and then progress to pain. Usually, changes are made only reactively, after damage has been done.
No matter where one performs computer work, if gaps exist between the equipment and the user, or if the ergonomic equipment has not been adjusted correctly, injuries and illnesses can occur.
How office ergonomics software can help
Office ergonomics software can help both employers and employees by providing awareness training and self-assessments from wherever they are working. Transitioning from the corporate office to a home office involves changes to the work environment that can introduce new risk. A proactive, continuous-improvement approach to assessment will screen for poor conditions and help expose their root causes. Sometimes, improvements are needed, but not possible to implement; creative workarounds may be necessary in these cases. For help with office-to-home transitions, my colleague, Rick Barker (CPE, CSP), has provided Tips On Taking Work Home.
Some home-office workers are spending 8 to 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, slouching over a hard, wooden stool or the edge of a couch. Training employees in proper home-office setup and best practices significantly increases the immediate and long-term benefits from an ergonomics assessment. For instance, one study found that training office workers to correctly use a sit-stand desk reduced MSDs in the neck by 42.2% after 6 months.
Before improvements can happen, workers need to be able to assess their own situations. Ergonomics self-assessments are a crucial step toward identifying the presence of MSD risk, and subsequent, virtual consultations with an ergonomics professional can be the bridge to accurate and reliable results from anywhere in the world. This approach is most effective when combined with training.
During training, individuals learn about
- proper chair and workstation adjustment,
- what to watch for, and
- how to correct poor ergonomics conditions when they are present.
When paired with training, self-assessments enable workers to
- expose MSD risk,
- derive solutions, and
- implement improvements on their own.
Humantech® Office Ergonomics by VelocityEHS effectively trains workers to assess their own office or home-office workspaces. If a self-assessment reveals ergonomics issues that are not resolvable due to high risk or lack of equipment, or if the user requests it, board-certified ergonomists are available to conduct remote consultations and coaching sessions. The coaching helps to ensure the workstation is set up correctly for the individual and offers in-depth feedback, advice, and innovative solutions. Further, professional recommendations for office equipment can be made. For some examples of home coaching solutions (and some immediate improvement ideas) check out Bhillie Luciani’s (AEP) article: How Ergonomists Work from Home.
How remote ergonomics consultations can help
If a self-assessment reveals a need for further one-on-one consultation and coaching, there are a number of benefits for everyone involved when consultation is delivered remotely.
Faster. Online consultations are scheduled with the click of a button, require no travel, and results are delivered electronically. They also enable ergonomists to spend more time on coaching and reporting because less time is required to collect data.
Less expensive. In-person visits involve transit time, airfare, and expenses; remote consultations eliminate these costs. Because the approach is proactive, return on investment will be greater and come sooner. For instance, one study found an average return of 1:2.6, with a payback period of about 5 months for ergonomics programs in office environments. For more information, check out Office Ergonomics is More Important than Ever by Jonny Valencia (AEP).
Comprehensive. We’ve found that the majority of office workers are able to identify and reduce MSD risk on their own, at least to some extent, leaving ergonomists with more availability to assist those who really need it. In turn, companies can complete assessments for all of their members.
Accessible. The COVID-19 pandemic has impeded our ability to come and go as we please, and with the restrictions and precautions in place, remote self-assessment and consultation may be the only option for those who are working from home—and for those who have returned to the office. This approach provides an effective, safe, and efficient route of service delivery.
For more information about the benefits of remote assessments, check out 6 Reasons to Try Remote Ergonomics Assessments by Greg Cresswell (CPE) and 3 Ways to Keep Your Ergonomics Process on Track by Michael Hoonhorst (CPE).
Check out these other resources on ergonomics:
Goggins, R.W., Spielholz, P., Nothstein, G.L., 2008. Estimating the effectiveness of ergonomics interventions through case studies: implications for predictive cost- benefit analysis. J. Saf. Res. 39, 339–344
Mahmud, N., Kenny, D. T., Md Zein, R., & Hassan, S. N. (2011). Ergonomic Training Reduces Musculoskeletal Disorders among Office Workers: Results from the 6-Month Follow-Up. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences: MJMS, 18(2), 16–26.
Mahmud N, Kenny DT, Md Zein R, Hassan SN. The effects of office ergonomic training on musculoskeletal complaints, sickness absence, and psychological well-being: a cluster randomized control trial. Asia Pac J Public Health. 2015;27(2):NP1652-NP1668. doi:10.1177/1010539511419199
Wong M., 2020. Stanford research provides a snapshot of a new working from home economy. https://news.stanford.edu/2020/06/29/snapshot-new-working-home-economy/
Robertson MM, Ciriello VM, Garabet AM. Office ergonomics training and a sit-stand workstation: effects on musculoskeletal and visual symptoms and performance of office workers. Appl Ergon. 2013;44(1):73-85. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2012.05.001