Most companies are serious about workplace safety and that goes even for office workers, whom they provide with proper chairs and ergonomically appropriate workstations.
But with so many people suddenly having been thrust into working from home, workers have converted guest bedrooms, kitchen tables and living rooms into workspaces ― and ergonomics has mostly gone out the window in the process. Most telecommuters are working at makeshift spots in their homes, often on laptops in positions that are far from ergonomically correct.
Additionally, few employers have actually gone to their workers’ homes to check on their setups to make sure they are ergonomically proper. With all this in mind, it should come as no surprise that a recent study by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that most home workspaces are set up incorrectly.
Workplace safety engineers have been expressing concern about the poor ergonomics for home-based workers during the pandemic, and that faulty workstation designs can lead to an increase in repetitive motion, carpal tunnel, neck strain, back strain and other workers’ compensation claims among telecommuting workers.
The study evaluated the work setups of 843 university faculty and staff who were working from home after shelter-at-home orders went into effect in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The study found that:
- 41% of chairs were too low and 2% too high.
- 53% of workers had armrests on their chairs, but 32% did not use them. Not using armrests causes contact stress on forearms when rested on the hard front edge of work surfaces, and strain across the upper back as the arms need support.
- For 18% of workers with armrests, the rests were improperly adjusted.
- 69% of workers did not lean on the back support of their chairs.
- 73% of workers had chairs without lumbar support (which supports the lower back and helps maintain lumbar curvature).
- 75% of workers were using laptop computers on desks that were deemed too “low relative to the workers’ eye height,” which can cause neck strains.
- For those workers who used a monitor on their desk, 52% of them were set up too low and 4% were too high.
- 31% of workers with monitors had not centered the screens, meaning they had to twist to view the monitor.
Obviously, it’s not going to be feasible for employers to provide new office equipment for all of their telecommuting workers, but there are workarounds.
Kermit Davis, PhD, an expert in office ergonomics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and one of the study’s authors, recommends:
- Placing a pillow on your seat to elevate the seat height.
- Placing a pillow or rolled-up towel behind your back to provide lumbar and back support.
- Wrapping armrests if they are low and not adjustable.
- Moving your chair closer to the desk or table to encourage having your back against the back of the seat.
- Using an external keyboard and mouse, along with raising the laptop monitor by placing a stack of books or a box under the laptop when using it on a desk.