© Kittiphan Teerawattanakul | Dreamstime
Dreamstime Xxl 156939289

I’m Not Sure I’m Doing This Right—Home Office Ergonomics

March 31, 2021
We need to be as diligent about work from home ergonomics as we are in an office or on a work site.

It wasn’t until I had worked three months at home that I noticed some odd aches and pains. My upper arm started to hurt all the time. My shoulders, neck and back seemed more sore than usual.

I’m embarrassed to say that it took me awhile to figure out that my home office ergonomics were the culprit. (I thought it was the extra workout routines.)

My workstation at my employer’s office was designed for optimal health. I participated in an extensive online tutorial, and my employer implemented the ergonomic recommendations for my personal space. However, my home office designer—me—hadn’t taken any of this into consideration when setting up my home office.

It turns out I’m not alone.

“Often, employees have relied on having someone physically checking their workstations once a year to ensure they were correct,” explains Rick Barker, principal solution strategist-ergonomics with VelocityEHS. “Understanding ergonomics wasn’t part of an employee’s job, but that has changed. It’s really an opportunity to provide education and resources for people to have a better understanding of how their comfort levels affect productivity.”

I had to laugh when Barker said this since I actually had to stop working past my usual quitting time, which I have done regularly since working at home, as my arm hurt too much. But he said this is no laughing matter, as people aren’t as effective when they are uncomfortable. And losing just a little productivity per employee can result in a major loss when spread across a company.

Setting up a home office improperly is pretty common, says Kermit Davis, PhD, an expert in office ergonomics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. In an article published in the journal Ergonomics in Design: The Quarterly of Human Factors Applications (July 2020) on the results of an ergonomic assessment study conducted on University of Cincinnati employees, Davis found several problems.

The study evaluated home workstations and identified several issues that could adversely affect workers.

  • Chairs: First, the chairs were not the correct height—41% were too low and 2% were too high.
  • Armrests: While 53% of workers had armrests on their chairs, 32% did not use them. For 18% of workers, the armrests were improperly adjusted. Not using an armrest can cause stress on the forearms, while resting hands on the hard edge of a work surface can strain the upper back.
  • Back support: A majority (69%) of workers did not use the back of the chair for support and 73% did not have any type of lumbar support.
  • Computer monitors: Almost 75% of the monitors were laptops and those were too low relative to the worker’s eye height. External monitors were routinely set up too low 52% of the time or too high 4% of the time. Another common issue with monitors was primary screens not being centered in front of workers. This occurred with 31% of workers and resulted in people twisting their necks or backs to view the monitor.

How can companies address these issues?

Barker offered a best practice that he has observed, whereby companies provide small sums, say $30-$400, to employees for them to set up an office that fits their individual needs rather than buy in bulk. Trying to find equipment that works for everyone is not practical, he points out. Even more importantly, this method has the added advantage of encouraging employees to become more aware of their own personal safety practices.

And for safety, the process is important. “Building out the internal process of evaluating a workstation to apply to a homework station is the first step,” Barker says. “There should be available documentation which employees can use to identify problems. The process should include continuous improvement suggestions.” Continuous improvement will prove to a very useful tool as most research is showing that working from home will continue in some form for many companies.

Sponsored Recommendations

ISO 45001: Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS)

March 28, 2024
ISO 45001 certification – reduce your organizational risk and promote occupational health and safety (OHS) by working with SGS to achieve certification or migrate to the new standard...

Want to Verify your GHG Emissions Inventory?

March 28, 2024
With the increased focus on climate change, measuring your organization’s carbon footprint is an important first action step. Our Green House Gas (GHG) verification services provide...

Download Free ESG White Paper

March 28, 2024
The Rise and Challenges of ESG – Your Journey to Enhanced Sustainability, Brand and Investor Potential

Work Safety Tips: 5 Tactics to Build Employee Engagement for Workplace Safety

March 13, 2024
Employee safety engagement strategies have become increasingly key to fostering a safer workplace environment. But, how exactly do you encourage employee buy-in when it comes ...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!