Ergonomic Best Practices for Working from Home
By Jeremy Wade, Loss Control Consultant, TWCARMF
With the suddenness of the transition from working in the office to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers were unable to ensure employees had the best ergonomic set-up at home. Most employees took their laptops home; however, that was the only equipment they took with them. For an ideal ergonomic set-up at home you need a docking station, at least one monitor, an ergonomic office chair, a keyboard and a mouse. For many of you, your monitor is the laptop screen, the keyboard and mouse are on the laptop, and your office chair is at the kitchen table. It is okay if you do not have all the luxuries of your office at home. We are here to provide you with some best practices to help manage your work area at home until you can get back to the office.
Keep your Work in Front of You. The most important thing I look for when conducting ergonomic assessments is if the employee is keeping all work in front of him/her. This is the most common mistake committed by employees regarding office ergonomics and is a major cause of muscle aches and strains. Monitors to the side and writing on a piece of paper to the left or right of the keyboard are the most prevalent culprits. If your work is off to the side, even a little, you will twist or turn in your chair to perform the task. That twist or turn causes your muscles to engage and eventually fatigue. When that happens, your muscles are susceptible to a strain or sprain. The key here is to keep everything in front of you. If you must write things down, move the keyboard to the side and have the notepad directly in front of you. Keep your monitor or laptop directly in front of you with the top even with your eyes. If you do not have a monitor and are using just the laptop, you will want to use boxes or books to raise it up to eye level. However, this now creates a problem with the keyboard and mouse. I suggest using or purchasing an external keyboard and mouse.
Maintain Good Posture. While working from home, especially from a laptop, you will be tempted to work from the comforts of your living room furniture. Another main contributor to muscle aches and strains is poor posture and working from the couch will create just that. Ideally you want to sit in an ergonomic chair but most of you will not have one at home. That’s okay. If you do not have an ergonomic chair, a table chair will work just fine, if you maintain a few ergonomic basics. These basics apply to any type of chair you sit in. First, you want to sit with your hips and knees at 90° angles or greater. If you are leaning forward in your chair, the angle of your hips will be less than 90° and you will be putting a strain on your lower back. Sitting with your knees bent at an angle of less than 90° will slow blood flow to your lower legs. Placing your feet flat on the floor or footrest will help maintain a proper angle. Second, sit with your shoulders and upper back against the chair. If sitting in a non-ergonomic chair, place a small pillow or folded up towel between the chair and your lower back. This will give you lumbar support. Last, you want to maintain a straight line with your torso; shoulders above or slightly behind your hips and head in midline with your shoulders.
Avoid Reaching. Now that you are sitting properly and keeping work in front of you, you want to avoid reaching. The most commonly happens when using the keyboard and mouse. Ideally, you want to sit as described above along with your elbows by your ribs. This next part may require adjustments, but you want to have your arm resting on the desk or table about an inch or two behind the wrist. With this placement, the keyboard and mouse should be close to the edge of the table or desk. You do not want your arm fully extended to use either items. This will cause the muscles to stretch and tighten. Over time they will fatigue and eventually lead to aches and strains. This is when you will experience neck and shoulder discomfort. The same applies to any other item you use often while working from home. If you have to reach, move it closer to you.
Take Breaks and Stretch. Before you even start your day of working from home, you want to stretch. There are plenty of examples to be found through a Google search. You want to focus on your shoulders, neck and back. In addition to stretching to start your day, you will want to take periodic breaks. Do not sit in front of the computer all day long. Get up. Walk around. Relax on the couch for a little while, just not too long. During these breaks, stretch again. Get the blood flowing. You also need to exercise your eyes. Focus your gaze on items at different depths. The breaks and stretching will help keep your muscles loose and less susceptible to a strain or sprain.
We have had to manage a lot of adjustment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with work. Hopefully these quick hitting best practices will help you stay comfortable while you work from home at your improvised desk. Have a minimalist mindset when it comes to clutter, cords/cables and other items around your desk that can trip you up. Hang in there and when this is all over you can carry these best practices back to the luxuries of our office.
For more information regarding the Texas Water Conservation Association Risk Management Fund (TWCARMF) and its programs and services, please visit www.twcarmf.org or contact Micheon Balmer, Director of Pool Management, at (512) 427-2312.