Office Ergonomics after COVID-19
An interesting piece of information was presented in a Pittsburgh Business Times article written by Tim Schooley and published in the April 23-29, 2021 edition titled “Firms Get Closer to Making Decisions”, stating that before the pandemic “…5% of US employees worked remotely…and another 20% were able to shift between in-office and work-from-home…” After the pandemic it is “…predicted that about half of office workers will be remote at least part of the time…”
As more companies are now in the planning process to return workers to the office environments as the economy opens up, many employers are considering if all workers need to return to the office on a full-time basis or can employees work from home on a fulltime basis or a hybrid model where workers share workspace. The hybrid model presents specific situations and potential hazards that need to be considered and addressed.
When a worker has an assigned work area (office, desk, or cubicle), the desk, chair, monitor(s), keyboard, and lighting can be set up to accommodate the one worker using the assigned work area. For a hybrid model, the general thought is that unless a worker comes to the office everyday there will be no assigned work areas so employees that come to the office two, three, or four days per week will use any work area that is open which may not be the same work area as they used the previous day. This means work areas will be shared between workers on different days.
Unless all of your workers are the same height, same weight, same body type, same age, all use the same eyeglasses, and all have the same comfort preferences, there needs to be significant adjustability in the work area. The ideal work area set-up will allow for the worker to have their feet flat on the floor, knees and hips bent at about 90 degrees, upper legs supported, their lower back is supported on a chair that has five casters, head upright inline above the neck, shoulders, and hips, upper arms are at the side of the body parallel with the body, elbows bent at about 90 degrees from the upper arm, and wrists are straight and hand is flat while using the keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is placed so as to allow for the correct positioning of the arms, wrists, and hands. The monitor is to be between 20 and 30 inches from the worker with the line of site horizontally at the top line of text in the monitor or slightly lower.
To obtain the ideal work area set-up, there must be significant adjustability and adaptability to make the work area fit the person which is the objective of ergonomics. Office furniture including desks and chairs will need to be adjustable both vertically and horizontally. To get the monitor and the keyboard in the correct position, they will need to be separate which means that laptops cannot be used and if used will not allow for the correct positioning. Office chairs, while adjustable, may not be able to work for every worker based on height and body type. On the chair, the seat pan depth and width varies and will need to be considered so various chairs may need to be available for moving around between work areas. There may need to be footrests or stools available if chairs and desks cannot be adjusted completely to suit the worker.
When setting up the ideal work area so that it is adjustable and adaptable, every work area should be adjustable and adaptable to cover 90% of the users of the work area. There are significant numbers of office furniture manufacturers and distributors that provide furniture and accessories that adjust and adapt. It is up to the employer purchasing the office furniture and accessories to choose the correct furniture and accessories to allow for adaptability and adjustability to accommodate 90% of the employees that may use the work areas.
Acquiring the office furniture and accessories is not the end, it is just the beginning. Workers need to be trained and coached on setting up the work area to be as close to the ideal work area as previously described as possible. It may take posters being placed in work areas to remind workers of the ideal work area. The coaching may include a manager occasionally reviewing the work area set up with the employees until making the necessary adjustments every time a worker comes to the office using a different work area is considered just “part of the job” and a regular activity. Workers need to be encouraged to set up the work area to prevent potential ergonomic injuries. Workers need to be trained on the various types of ergonomic hazards, signs and symptoms of ergonomic injuries, and encouraged to report any signs and symptoms of ergonomic injuries to supervisors. Prompt reporting can facilitate prompt adjustments in the work area as needed to alleviate the signs and symptoms and allow for the early medical interventions before the ergonomic injuries progress to require such extreme treatment as surgery and significant time off work.
With the real possibility that as many as 50% of office workers will be working remotely at least part of the time and sharing an office with other workers when in the office, ergonomic hazards will need to be addressed by making the work areas adjustable and adaptable to 90% of the workers. Along with addressing the furniture and accessories in the work area, training and coaching will be just as important.
For more information, contact:
Wayne Vanderhoof CSP, CIT
RJR Safety Inc.