Work from Home Starter Guide: Adjusting Ergonomically, Safely, and Successfully

By: ABD Occupational Health & Safety Team

Many employers, whose business operations allow, have implemented interim work from home guidelines. This decision is driven based on the health of their employees, school closures, local shelter in place orders, and government mandated quarantine restrictions.

The following are suggestions to consider when implementing a temporary work from home arrangement:

HR policies and employment

Employers should seek the advice of professional employment counsel and HR professionals on various implications, i.e. exempt vs non-exempt employees, recording hours, payroll, reimbursement of work expenses, union collective bargaining agreements, any restrictions on working remotely, following existing HR policies, etc.

Information Technology

Work with your IT team to ensure you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees working from home, i.e. access to secured company networks and platforms, protection of corporate confidential information, etc.

Home office workspace, equipment and ergonomics

Some employees may be already set up for this type of work, but for many, working from home is new and they’re attempting to navigate working from home from both a technology standpoint while remaining ergonomically comfortable.

Many employers have sent laptops home to employees, instructing them to plug into their wireless routers, but where does the employee sit and work for 6 to 8 hours a day?  One of the worst things is setting up a workstation on the couch in front of the TV. It is impossible to maintain proper posture while sitting on a couch looking at a laptop screen.

The typical office ergonomic set-up includes a laptop, ergonomic chair, a keyboard low in your lap, a mouse and a computer screen with the top of the screen even with your eyes. Employers should have a policy on work from home office equipment i.e. will the employees be allowed to bring their office equipment home, will the company provide or reimburse employees for office equipment, or will they need guidance on alternative arrangements?

Providing employees with proactive tips on how to set up their home office can help employees stay comfortable and prevent discomfort which can lead to a health or workers’ compensation claim. HR and EHS teams can work together to create basic ergonomic tips when working from home, following are a few examples to consider:

  • Workspace: Designate a place in your home where you can set up your home office, away from distractions. Keeping the space organized helps to stay focused and promote productivity. A single location is also ideal for spending time to get it right and will encourage future proper use of the computer if all the equipment is already set up.
  • Desk: If you don’t have a desk, a kitchen counter or table can work well but make sure you have a stool to sit on if you’re at a high counter.
  • Chair height: Adjust your seat pan so that your knees are level with or slightly lower than your hips with your feet flat on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor, use a footrest, small box, or ream of paper to achieve stability. If you don’t have a chair that is adjustable, use a flat pillow to sit on to raise your height.
  • Chair back support: Be sure your lower back is supported. Use pillows for lumbar support and sit with an upright posture to minimize stress on the back.
  • Monitor screen and keyboards: Laptops do not allow the keyboard to be low or the monitor to be high enough which requires you to look down at the screen. Ideally, they should be separated using a laptop riser and a separate keyboard. As an alternative to a laptop riser, you can place the laptop on top of a stack of books or paper reams.

When setting up your laptop, monitor and keyboard it is important to keep everything aligned. Make sure that you are facing straight ahead and not looking to the left or right while typing.

  • Lighting: Make sure to have a place that is well lit. Usually near a window without glare works well.
  • Micro breaks: It is important to remember to take short breaks during the day to avoid long periods of static sitting, typing, and allowing your muscles a short rest. If you can, step away for at least five minutes every hour to stand up, move around, stretch, or do a different task, such as make a phone call while standing. “Shelter in place” means you need to stay home but you can still go outside for a small break and walk your dog or just enjoy some fresh air, while maintaining social and physical distancing.

Communications

  • To avoid employees feeling isolated, stay connected to your employees on a regular basis via teleconferencing and video calls.
  • Solicit feedback from employees on any questions, concerns as well as suggestions for maintaining a healthy work from home experience.
  • Encourage employees to stay in touch with their colleagues.
  • Communicate the company’s benefit programs, including employee assistance services, and health plans.
  • Explore ways to keep employee morale high and motivated by doing something special for team members, i.e. sending a gift card to help them purchase food or at-home fun activities.

Workers’ compensation while working from home

Employee’s rights to workers’ compensation benefits are still the same and a worker can file a claim for benefits if they believe they suffered a work-related injury or illness, even while working from home. Keep in mind, workers’ compensation carriers will investigate whether the injury arose out of employment and occurred during the course and scope of employment before accepting any claims for benefits.

Employees working from home should self-monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus, which are known to include fever, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If symptoms develop, they should seek medical advice from a health care provider and keep their employer up to date on their return to work status.

Productivity

  • Discuss ways with managers how to maintain and monitor regular business operations and productivity amongst the workforce.
  • Encourage managers to have weekly check -in calls with their team.

Healthy practices and home emergency preparedness

American Red Cross has posted information to help protect individuals against COVID-19, including maintaining healthy practices and keeping essential household supplies at home.

American Red Cross: Staying Safe and Helping Others During COVID-19

Centers for disease and Prevention has also published an interim guide to help households plan for community transmission of COVID-19 and suggested steps to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in the home and community.

CDC: Get Your Home Ready

CDC: Steps to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 if You are Sick

CDC: Keeping the Workplace and School Safe

 

Content Disclaimer:  The information provided herein is for informational, educational and discussion purposes only and shall serve solely as a resource to be used together with your ABD professional insurance advisors in making risk management decisions.  While ABD endeavors to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability with respect to the information contained in this document.   The information provided herein does not constitute professional advice, nor does ABD provide professional advice beyond our current or prospective broker-client relationship. If you have legal, tax or financial planning questions, we advise you to contact a licensed professional.  If any actions or decisions are made based solely on the information provided herein without consultation with a licensed professional, you do so at your own risk and ABD shall have no liability resulting from such action or decisions.

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