Health and Safety Considerations for Working Safely in a Hybrid Workplace: The Importance of Ergonomics

Health and Safety Considerations for Working Safely in a Hybrid Workplace: The Importance of Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science of designing a workstation, work tools, and work to fit the capabilities of the person doing the work to improve productivity and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders and discomfort.

What Is an MSD?

MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) impact the musculoskeletal system, which includes the muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, blood vessels, and nerves.

What Is a WMSD?

A work-related musculoskeletal disorder is an MSD that is caused or exacerbated by environmental or job-related factors in the workplace. WMSDs are considered a workplace health and safety issue because they are closely connected to workplace hazards. Employers are therefore legally required to make their workers aware of these risks and take every reasonable precaution to protect their staff from MSDs. The legal guidelines consider the home or virtual office as part of the workplace.

Most work involves the use of the upper extremities (arms and hands). Understandably, these are therefore the common locations for WMSDs to occur, often impacting the hands, wrists, elbows, neck, and shoulders.

What Causes an MSD?

Many factors can increase the likelihood of MSD development, including the following:

  • Force (especially when focused on small body parts such as the wrist)
  • Awkward posture
  • Static body posture
  • Repetition
  • Long duration
  • Pace (if it does not allow sufficient recovery time between movements)
  • Temperature (heat or cold)
  • Vibrations

MSDs often occur as a result of a combination of these factors occurring simultaneously, not individually.

Possible employee symptoms or complaints if they are experiencing a MSD:

  1. PAIN = the most common (headaches, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and wrist pain)
  2. Joint stiffness
  3. Muscle tightness
  4. Redness of area
  5. Swelling of impacted area
  6. Pins and needles sensation
  7. Numbness
  8. Lost productivity

These symptoms may occur concurrently or independently in a range from mild to severe. In an early stage, an employee may feel aching and tired feelings of the impacted limb while working only and would not experience any change in their levels of performance. In an intermediate stage, the worker would have similar aching and tiredness, but it would continue when they were not working and would influence their repetitive work capacity. In a late stage, weakness, fatigue, and aching would persist in a resting state and would impact the worker’s ability to sleep and complete light duties.

But I already provided the work tools in the workplace. Why do I have to do this at home?

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Acts, the employer is still legally responsible for the health and safety in the home office. So there are some decisions that you will want to consider to ensure that employees can be safe at home.

Develop a policy and procedure statement for home/virtual offices that includes the following:

  • Roles and responsibilities of each workplace party
  • Arrangement of an ergonomic assessment to ensure that the proper set up is in place and consideration of all factors in the health and safety of the work area
  • Can the employee retrieve items at the office that would work for the home office?
  • Coverage of costs of workstation equipment (is there a budget limit, approval process or specific suppliers approved?)
  • Guidelines for equipment ordering (who is responsible for ordering and installing?)
  • Tracking of equipment provided at home (do you have a sign off for the care for and maintenance of equipment?)
  • When the workplace changes and return to the workplace occurs, what are the decision-making points to determine what equipment will return to the workplace?

Arrange for the Virtual Workplace Assessment

In this time of COVID, you may wonder how an Occupational Therapist can safely assess an employee’s ergonomic needs. The process is one that we have used for many years and is completed widely and internationally. This is one that allows the employee and the assessor to exchange information about the worker, the work, and the workstation. It is conducted virtually after an employee completes a comprehensive questionnaire that includes measurements and photos.

The Process

  • Completion of the referral. Ensure that the assessor understands your policies and procedures.
  • Employee provides details about the required work and productivity goals.
  • Employee completes on online virtual consent form.
  • Employee completes a survey to understand the worker, work, and work tools.
  • Employee takes measurements using a detailed measuring guide.
  • Photos are taken of the worker in the workstation.
  • The assessment is completed using a secure online platform.
  • The assessment includes detailed analysis of worker health issues, work requirements, and the workstation,
  • The assessment also considers other factors such as distractions, other health and safety risks, and ways to improve overall focus and productivity.
  • The assessor educates the employee on ways to adjust the workstation immediately to provide some improved ergonomics and on the importance of movement breaks and self-care.
  • A comprehensive report is provided regarding adjustments made and further recommendations.
  • The report includes specifics of any equipment that might be required, following the company policy and purchasing process.
  • Once equipment arrives, a follow up session is completed to ensure that all concerns are addressed and that the equipment is set up properly. This also allows for reinforcement of the education on movement breaks, stretching, and self-care principles for the employee.

Important Things to Consider as an Employer

Many individuals may be concerned about discomfort, but their pain and lack of productivity can be about any number of things, including the following:

  • Mental health concerns, such as stress or mental illness
  • Home environment set up concerns that are not related to ergonomics, such as small living spaces requiring an office to be shared with the bedroom or living space
  • Home stressors related to others in the home, such as childcare and eldercare or even domestic violence
  • Lack of social connection and isolation
  • Lack of face-to-face communication from the team or management

Having the crucial conversation with the employee and taking the time to listen to what is happening with them can solve so many concerns.

Ensure that you have all the tools to care for yourself and your team with the Manager Mental Health Training Program.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting specializes in the area of Occupational Therapy. We have Occupational Therapists all over Canada that can assist with making your workplace healthier. We can assist with anything from ergonomic assessments to reactivation and return to work. Occupational Therapists are deemed an essential service and we will continue to provide services under the current public health guidelines.

This means that we will provide virtual assessment and intervention services using secure platforms. When virtual service is not appropriate, our Occupational Therapists will provide in person services following government, public health and regulatory body guidelines. Make a referral today!

Gowan Consulting currently has multiple other resources as well. Check out our training programs and resources below.

  • Attend our FREE Webinar Accommodation and Hybrid Work on September 16, 2021 12:00pm EST to know more about how to manage your hybrid work decisions.
  • Assist managers in developing the skills to identify and support employees in distress – our newest date for Manager Mental Health Training is September 28th, 2021 at 9:00am to 1:00pm EST.
  • If you are a professional wanting to have more resources and skills to manage stay at work and return to work, JOIN our Mastering Health and Productivity Membership that starts September 30, 2021.
  • Check out our Working from Home Series! We are offering live sessions as well as a webinar bundle deal to help you get a start for your hybrid workplace. Our webinars cover mental health, home ergonomics, tips for working during COVID-19, and more. Get the webinar bundle for yourself or for your whole organization!
  • Listen to Nicolette Gowan’s meditation series “In the Now with Nicolette”— now for free on YouTube!
  • TIPS for Return to the Workplace Program– Consider enrolling in our new 4-session work-focused CBT program to assist you or your employees in having the strategies to successfully return to or stay at work.
  • For more on all we have to offer, contact us! We want to help make a difference in your healthy business!

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