Work from Home Injuries – Now the New Pandemic

Since the world went into shutdown in March 2020, many people – if their role supports it – are still working from home. Telecommuting benefits are obvious: businesses can lower costs such as rent and electric bills, while staff can work efficiently from home and achieve a better work-life balance. Yet, as the pandemic has played out, a host of previously overlooked risks have emerged, primarily worker health and well-being.

Recipe for Neck, Shoulder or Back Pain and Headaches

During COVID-19, people had to work from dining chairs, sofas or on the side of the bed, whatever they could find as a desk. They were no  longer in the office and benefiting from ergonomic office spaces that  offer adjustable chairs, monitors at eye level, external keyboards,  footrests and headsets.

These makeshift work stations are a recipe for neck, shoulder or back pain and headaches. What starts as mild discomfort then sharpens, and the pain worsens, is the genesis of an overuse injury from repetitive trauma.

People Tend To Work Longer Hours

The other reality of working from home is the challenge of separating professional and personal lives.  There are more disruptions at home, and productivity can become a challenge.  When working from home, some people tend to work longer hours, putting themselves at risk of burnout.  Of course, this increased time at the computer involves excessive use of computer screens with bad posture and makeshift equipment resulting in overuse issues.

Extended Time Away From the Workplace

Extended time away from the workplace also means there is no ad hoc collaboration or social interaction, so people are at risk of becoming disengaged.  Boundaries are blurred as to what constitutes ‘the office’ and the worker’s hours, which is a significant issue with an injury and a worker’s compensation claim.  Furthermore the less engaged staff are, the more likely they are to file a claim.

Steps Employers Can Take To Protect Remote Workers’ Well-being

  1. Draw up, communicate and review your remote working policy with employees;
  2. Clearly define each employee’s scope of work and your expectations of them while working remotely;
  3. Work with each employee to designate a dedicated work are
  4. Train employees on workstation setup and safety measures as well as ergonomic best practices;
  5. Stay in direct contact with employees, checking in daily if necessary and via weekly or biweekly video calls, and ensure they know who to report to if there’s a problem.

Also of note is there are many ideas for keeping the remote team engaged, such as scheduled professional development webinars, a Steps challenge or Bake-offs or Dress Ups or Virtual Happy Hour or Trivia competitions.

Assessing Work-From Home Risks

SafeWork NSW advises the risks an employer should consider if workers are working from home include:

  • Workstation set up
  • Work hours and breaks
  • Physical environment such as heat, cold, lighting, electrical safety, home hygiene, and home renovations
  • Psychosocial risks such as isolation, reduced social support from managers and colleagues, fatigue, online harassment, domestic violence.

Active OHS has a team of Work Health and Safety and Allied Health experts well-versed in assessing risks and developing policies

Employers should also provide ergonomic equipment if necessary,  respond immediately to any reports of aches and pains and consider the  involvement of an Occupational Therapist to assess the home office.   Prevention of illness and injury is a legal requirement and a much cheaper option than managing a workers’ compensation claim, particularly for a remote worker.

Active OHS Work Health and Safety Experts

Active OHS boasts a team of Work Health and Safety and Allied Health experts well-versed in assessing risks and developing policies like a Telecommuting document and policies and procedures that provide structure to working remotely.  Our focus is assisting you to meet your legislative obligations and ensure your workers’ well-being.

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About the author

Kerry Foster

Kerry Foster graduated with a B. Social Work in 1980 and since 1995 has been the Director of Active OHS a WorkCover and Comcare Accredited Workplace Rehabilitation Provider.  Active OHS is an Occupational Rehabilitation Centre in Sydney NSW that also offers Work Health & Safety Training and Consulting, Ergonomic and Medico-legal Assessments as well as Outsourced Return To Work Co-ordinators.