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April 23, 2020

Working from home

Ensuring proper ergonomics when using alternative workstations

Shane Collins

During these challenging times, working from home or using an alternative workstation is the new “normal.”  With the new normal comes its own set or risks. Ensuring proper ergonomics is an important part of keeping our employees feeling good. You want to make sure you’re fitting the workstation to the person, rather than the other way around. Getting the right fit in a chair, work surface, keyboard, mouse and computer screen will reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries and discomfort. Whether that is working in our at home office, your living room, or at the dining room table, it is essential for employees to maintain neutral body positioning. 

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are commonly reported by office workers and that my likely be more prevalent now than ever before. MSDs are defined as illnesses and injuries that affect one or more parts of the musculoskeletal system. If you are experiencing any symptoms such as discomfort, pain, fatigue, swelling, stiffness, numbness or tingling, then you could be experiencing a case of MSD.  This should not be ignored since these disorders and can have detrimental effects on workers’ health and productivity. In order to help clients stay ahead of MSDs, we provide an Alternative Workstation checklist as a guide. We want employers and employees to be able to make the appropriate corrections and adjustments before symptoms appear.

We encourage at-home workers to focus on:

  • Chair Adjustments – The height of the chair is very important and it should be aligned so that your feet are flat on the floor, and your thighs are parallel to the ground.  This promotes blood circulation to the lower legs. When sitting back in the chair, it should be adjusted so that your back is fully engaged with the backrest. The depth of the seat should be able to support your legs in a way so that there is a clearance of three fingers width behind the knee and the edge of the chair.  Armrests height should be lifted or lowered to support your elbows resting at your side in a 90-degree angle. 

  • Keyboard Adjustments – The keyboard should be located on the same level as your lower arms.  This is accomplished by your upper arm and lower arm making a nice 90-degree angle. Wrists should be straight, not angled, and the shoulders should be in a relaxed position.  It is important to keep the keyboard in the midline of the body to prevent strain on the wrists.  Think of the letter “B” for bellybutton, and that’s where it should align. 

  • Monitor Adjustments – The monitor should be placed directly in front of you and at an arm’s length away.  If you have a laptop, keep your shoulders relaxed with your elbows at your side maintaining that bent 90-degree angle.  Set the height of the monitor so your eyes are in line with the top of the screen.  Use of a document holder is encouraged to prevent lateral motion of the head.

Even after a workstation is setup to optimize your comfort, you shouldn’t sit all day. The body is meant to move. Try these practical habits to decrease discomfort, fatigue and physical stress on the body.

  • Stand up to move and avoid prolonged periods of sitting.

  • Change positions every 30 minutes. Set an alarm on your phone to alert you to stretch, grab a drink of water, or pull the shades.  It’s easy to get lost in work, but it is essential for the body to get up and move.  

  • Take short stretch breaks periodically throughout the day. Injuries are at an increased risk because of cumulative stress on the muscles, joints and tendons over time. Stretching will promote blood flow to the working muscles and flush out the toxins. This is also going to help reduce the effects of repetitive motion stresses on the body while at work. Use MMA’s stretching handout as your guide.

For questions about specific ergonomic solutions or other at-home safety guidelines, please reach out to your local Marsh & McLennan Agency safety representative.