Addressing the Ergonomic Risks of Telecommuters

Working at home is rapidly becoming a more popular option for employers to provide employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, close to a quarter of all US employees work from home on an average workday, and that number has been on the rise and is expected to continue doing so.

However, this trend makes it difficult for employers to ensure remote workspaces are ergonomically correct. For instance, providing ergonomics evaluations of at-home workspaces can be complicated.

Employers may be hesitant to send a company or outsourced ergonomics expert to a worker’s home to conduct an evaluation of their workspace, including for liability and safety reasons. In these cases, employers may need to rely on employees to self-evaluate. But this may cause further problems, especially if the employee does not have the knowledge to perform the appropriate evaluation procedures.

Taking a Virtual Approach

There are now alternatives that employers can implement to manage this new ergonomic risk. As the number of employees working from home increases, so too have virtual ergonomics tools. New technologies are making it easier for employees to access ergonomists from the comfort of their homes.

Thanks to improved video quality, and new simulator technology, a comprehensive ergonomics consultation can be conducted completely online. Employees provide ergonomists an outline of their actual or planned at-home workspace through either photos, a video, or a virtual program, and the specialists can determine the best solution possible. This eliminates the barrier of requiring that ergonomists go on-site to conduct a full survey and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, virtual ergonomics can:

  • Reduce distractions during ergonomics evaluations, which make them more productive for both employers and ergonomists.
  • Allow for feedback to be provided more quickly thanks to e-mail and video conferencing.
  • Provide a more personalized experience since ergonomics training can be conducted through customized live training and videos that ergonomists provide their home-based clients.

A Continuous Process

Following the online consultation, employees will still need some assistance adjusting to their new workspace, even if that space is located within their own homes. Although the space could be well-structured from an ergonomic standpoint, employees could still feel physical discomfort within it. Ergonomists can help employees make real-time adjustments to posture and equipment placement online or over the phone.

Following the evaluation, employers should check in with both the ergonomists and their employees to ensure that the transition runs smoothly.

The use of virtual ergonomics not only allows for cost savings for employers and privacy for employees, it can also reduce the amount of time employees are away from their core job responsibilities and the likelihood they develop musculoskeletal disorders.

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Jeffrey Smagacz

Senior Vice President, Global Ergonomist, Marsh

  • United States