Injury Prevention in the Home Workplace
Every year, thousands of workers are injured in the workplace. About 90% of injuries are considered to be predictable and preventable. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are legally responsible not only for the health and safety of the workplace, but also for any home offices of workers in their employ. Workers, whether at home or in the office, are responsible for reporting any known hazards to their supervisor or employer as soon as possible so that they can be fixed.
Some common workplace hazards employees may experience from home include slipping, tripping, or falling, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological injury. Injury prevention is more than just acknowledging that there is the potential for injuries everywhere – it is actively educating individuals to know risks and how to avoid them.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
In Canada, over 43,000 workers get injured annually due to falls, which accounts for 18% of time-loss injuries (Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, 2016). A majority of these falls occur due to tripping and slipping. In the home workplace, these falls can be prevented by ensuring that the workspace is free of hazards such as cords and wires, loose carpet, spills, open drawers, and other obstructions. You should be able to easily take movement breaks and step away from your desk without being impeded.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for more than 40% of all work-related injuries and are the number one type of lost-time work injury (Ministry of Labour, 2021). They can be caused by repetitive movement, awkward positioning, static body posture, and excessive force. Most work involves the use of the upper extremities (arms and hands); understandably, these are the common locations for MSDs to occur, often impacting the hands, wrists, elbows, neck, and shoulders. Possible employee symptoms of MSDs include pain, joint or muscle stiffness, swelling, redness, and numbness.
Employees should consider the following ergonomic principles to avoid injury:
- Take regular breaks to interrupt continuous sitting and screen time.
- Keep your wrists in a neutral position.
- Keep elbows at roughly 90 degrees.
- Ensure your laptop or computer is at eye level to protect your neck and shoulders.
- Keep your workspace tidy and organized to reduce twisting and reaching motions.
- Support your arms at table height.
- Plant your feet on the floor or footrest.
- Ensure that your workspace is well-lit to avoid eye strain and awkward body positioning while trying to read.
One in five Canadians will have a diagnosed mental health problem at some point in their life (CMHA, 2021). According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 500,000 Canadians miss work every week due to mental illness. Although we all have mental health, poor mental health can turn into psychological injury or illness if left unattended. While working from home, employees may be experiencing psychological hazards that are known or unknown to employers. Some examples of hazards include the following:
- Pace of work
- Conflicting demands
- Hours of work
- Work environment
- Conflict with others
- Social isolation
- Working alone
- Poor communication
- Relating to management, policies, organization of work, etc.
Distress is a normal human reaction, but if we do not look after our mental well-being, we can become psychologically injured or ill. Some of the negative psychological effects while injured could include anger and irritability, exhaustion, fear and guilt. Those who are psychologically ill may feel experience depression, acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, avoidance behaviour, alcohol abuse, or suicidal thoughts. Employees can use the following strategies to help cope with psychological hazards in the workplace:
- Develop resiliency tools.
- Practice self-care.
- Practice daily mindfulness.
- Focus on problems you can control.
- Stick to a routine to create stability.
- Cut out negative self talk.
- Eliminate negative coping strategies.
- Contact your emotional supports when you are going through a challenge.
- Get help from a healthcare professional, your EAP, or a distress line if you are not feeling like yourself.
Additional Home Workplace Concerns
In addition to the above concerns, employees and employers should also consider the following to further prevent injury while working from home:
- Fire protection – Does the home office meet safety regulations and fire codes?
- Emergency procedures – Does the employee have an evacuation plan? How will they contact the office in the case of emergency, and vice versa?
- Electrical safety – Are equipment cords and cables in good condition and protected from surges?
- Home stressors – Are there additional factors that the employee may be dealing with that could impact mental health or productivity levels? For example, do they have children at home, are they managing a sickness or non-work-related injury, is the home unsafe due to domestic abuse, etc.?
What Can Employers Do?
- Develop a policy and procedure statement for home/virtual offices that covers the guidelines for proper home equipment and who will be responsible for purchasing equipment.
- Make a referral to an Occupational Therapist for a virtual or in-person home office assessment.
- Arrange for an ergonomic training session for your whole team as a preventative measure. Gowan Consulting’s ErgoBlasts teach employees how to take their health into their own hands by giving them the skills to set up their workstations ergonomically.
- Provide support to employees who may be suffering from psychological injury. There are multiple strategies for providing support:
- Have a conversation with employees to ensure that they are doing well working from home. Work with employees to manage home stressors they may be having, such as childcare, or find help with issues such as domestic violence or substance abuse.
- Have your managers take Manager Mental Health Training so they can learn how to support employees in distress.
- Provide mental health and resiliency sessions for all your employees to equip them to deal with stress, burnout, isolation, or other mental health concerns.
- Take and provide training on Psychological Safety in the Workplace, including topics such as stigma, sexual harassment, and bullying and violence in the workplace.
- Provide 1:1 mental health support and coaching from an Occupational Therapist for employees who need further assistance staying at or returning to work due to mental health concerns.
- Develop a healthy and safety checklist to ensure that all hazards and strategies to avoid the hazards are known. Consider the following questions:
- What are the hazards of the job?
- Is there any special training needed for the job?
- Do employees have the right equipment for the job?
- How often are safety checks being conducted?
- If employees have any questions about safety, who do they ask?
- How do employees report injuries?
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 mental health to workplace accommodations and return to work. Make a referral or contact us to see how we can help with your workplace concerns.
You can also check out our entire training catalogue, which includes live workshops, certificate programs, and recorded webinars for employees and employers. Or, set up a consultation with us to develop a customized session or program for your workplace needs.
Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, December 2015, https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/workbook/step2.php
Ergonomics in the Workplace, Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, October 2021, https://www.ontario.ca/page/ergonomics-workplace
Telework/Remote Work/Working from Home, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, February 2021, https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/telework.html “Fast Facts about Mental Health and Mental Illness,” Canadian Mental Health Association, July 19, 2021, https://cmha.ca/brochure/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/