WFH injuries on the rise: Why HR needs to take ergonomics seriously

WFH-induced injuries will become a pain in the neck – literally

WFH injuries on the rise: Why HR needs to take ergonomics seriously

A leading physiotherapist has warned injuries caused by working from home have skyrocketed – and it should be a cause of concern for HR professionals.

Poor posture, makeshift offices and long periods of sitting down have all contributed to this growing workplace problem.

After experiencing Australia’s longest lockdown, Melbourne-based physio Andrew Wynd, managing director of Balwyn Sports and Physiotherapy Centre, said he has noticed a significant increase in the number of patients suffering neck and shoulder injuries.

“We’ve seen a lot of pins and needles and tingling down into the arms, particularly on the mouse side,” he told HRD.

“We’ve also seen low back pain as well from too much sitting. Almost every second patient is presenting with that same problem, which is not normal.”

Read more: Calls to pay employees more to work from home

While having a comfortable set-up can seem obvious, the serious long-term consequences of poor posture are often underestimated.

If the cause of pain isn’t addressed, it can lead to long-term nerve damage and even the need for surgery.

Now, it is no longer enough for HR teams to put together a checklist of best practice for their remote workers.

Ignoring their responsibility to provide a safe working environment could lead to compensation claims by employees, something Wynd warns should be a top priority for HR professionals.

“If you’re in pain you’ll be distracted and certainly not focused,” Wynd said. “There’s also an association between chronic pain and depression so it’s really important we get it right.”

Read more: Are you 'working from home' or 'living at work'?

Wynd said it’s vital for HR professionals to put time and effort into their working from home policy, taking every step possible to limit the risk of injury.

While a certain level of responsibility comes down to the employee, employers must show they are taking their role seriously.

He said consulting with an ergonomics expert or a health professional who has experience in spinal posture is a good way to develop a robust working from home policy.

“Our approach is one size does not fit all,” Wynd said. “Everyone’s posture is different and what they require will depend on the shape of their spine.”

So, what are some essential basics to be mindful of when working from home?

  • Remind employees to move every 20-40 minutes. Encourage them to use apps or timers to remind them to get up, have a stretch, and take a few deep breaths to open up their ribcage
  • Make sure employees have the necessary equipment to create a healthy working from home space. Wynd says an external monitor, mouse and keyboard are all essential. A three-way moveable chair is also a minimum
  • Imagine yourself as a game of Jenga. Posture doesn’t have to be bolt upright and in fact, forcing yourself to sit up straight might do more harm than good. Instead, envision your body as a Jenga tower, stacking your head on top of ribcage, and your ribcage on top of your pelvis. Your knees should be at a right angle, using a footrest if you’re unable to reach the floor
  • Small changes make a big difference: Remember to slightly adjust your chair throughout the day to redistribute the force of gravity on your joints
  • Check-in regularly with employees to make sure they have everything they need and address any aches and pains early to avoid potential pitfalls

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