Working from home - reducing risk of injury | Law Partners

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Working From Home - Are You Safe?

With more Australians working from home than ever before in what’s been widely dubbed as the ‘new normal’ following the outbreak of COVID-19, your home office design and ergonomic workstation setup has never been more important.

Over the past few months, businesses have been scrambling to adjust and efficiently facilitate their employees’ shift to working from home full-time which is estimated to be just over 2.5 million Australians.

The mad rush and large-scale move has resulted in many of these make-shift home offices being set up without being properly assessed by employers with couches, beds even the living room beanbag being used as workstations – which can directly lead to serious injury.

Respected Canadian ergonomist, Sue Hanel, believes the sudden mass shift to full-time work from home for so many people around the world is unfortunately going to lead“ to a rise in repetitive strain injuries particularly in people with underlying conditions.

“Repetitive strain injuries are chronic and they creep up over time,” Hanel told the Ottawa Citizen.

“So anybody who has underlying conditions like tendinitis, a herniated disc, sciatica, neck problems … depending on how many weeks or months this goes on, these people are going to be going back to their employers with aches and pains. It’s going to have a snowball effect.”

In order to minimise your working from home stress and risk of sustaining injury, here are a few tips and some valuable information to ensure your home office is safe.

Employer responsibilities to employees working from home

You could be forgiven for thinking that if, say, you trip on the cable of your monitor at the back of your desk on the way to the bathroom and severely injure your knee – you would have no chance at claiming compensation because you’re working from the comforts of your own home. Well, if this was your assumption, you would likely be incorrect.

Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean your employer isn’t responsible for your safety. Your employer still owes you a duty of care to ensure any hazards or risks around your workplace are minimised in order to protect you from injury.

Prior to your employer giving you the go-ahead to work from home they should have:

  • Assessed the suitability of your workstation environment in person or virtually.
  • Conducted a risk assessment or provided you with a workstation self-assessment checklist

So, if you do sustain an injury at home during specified work hours, you would likely be eligible for workers compensation.

What is a working from home workstation self-assessment?

A home workstation self-assessment is the first thing you need to do when setting up a safe home office. Essentially it’s a simple checklist that prompts you to identify any hazards around your workstation and assesses the overall safety of the workstation.

A self-assessment checklist should’ve been issued by your employer in order to assess the suitability of your home office. This self-assessment specifically looks at:

  • The work chair
  • The work desk
  • Ventilation
  • Lighting
  • Floors
  • Monitors
  • Electrical
  • Equipment (keyboard, mouse, laptop)
  • First Aid

As an employee it’s important you’re aware of your employer’s responsibilities to you while working from home which primarily includes an assessment of your workstation. If you haven’t been provided with a workstation self-assessment checklist, we’ll highlight some of its main points in detail for you to reference below.

Woman with repetitive strain injury from poor workstation setup

1. Do you have an ergonomic work chair?

Your work chair is one of the most important aspects of an ergonomic home office. An unsafe or inappropriate chair can lead to poor blood circulation, increased fatigue, digestive problems and even increased body fat.

The chair you should be using to avoid injury while working from home should have great support for your back and the height should be adjustable in order to prevent both neck and eye strain.

  • The height of your chair
    You should adjust your chair so that your feet rest either flat on the floor or on a foot rest. The ideal angle is to have your hips just above your knees so that your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Positioning of your arm rests
    Always ensure your arms are rested parallel to the floor and your shoulders aren’t hunched over.
  • Lower back support
    Your chair should be pressing up against your lower back to ensure it’s supporting you and not putting any added strain on your hamstrings. You can use a rolled up hand towel for extra lower back support, if needed.

2. Sit at an ergonomic work desk

If your chair has the appropriate lower back support and is adjustable, then it should make finding the right desk a lot easier. The wrong desk can cause numerous musculoskeletal injuries in your lower back, neck and hamstrings – which will severely limit your range of motion.

Essentially, your desk should allow you to place your feet flat on the floor and your legs fitting comfortably underneath with enough clearance for your knees. It should also let you type while keeping your arms and thighs parallel to the floor.

It should be big enough to have your monitor approximately an arm’s length away from your head. And the items you use for work such as a phone, notepad, pen etc should all be within an arm’s reach.

3. Place your monitor correctly

Many people overlook the importance of placing your monitor in the right spot but poor or incorrect monitor placement is one of the leading causes of neck and spinal injuries in office workplaces.

Quite simply, your monitor should be an arm’s length away from your head and the top of your screen(s) should be level or just below your eye level.

4. Control and even out your lighting

Shadows in your workspace are not your friend as this is an indication that you have uneven light. This can cause headaches, eye discomfort even chronic migraines.

Ideally, natural light is best to light up your workstation but it should be coming from the side, not behind or in front of you.

Artificial light is fine as long it’s coming from above and lights up your whole workstation evenly and doesn’t produce glare off the monitor.

It’s also handy to implement the 20-20-20 rule to give your eyes a break. To do so, every 20 minutes look at something approximately 20 metres away for 20 seconds.

5. Make sure you operate keyboard and mouse in tandem

Most repetitive strain injuries in an office setting occur as a result of keyboard and mouse use. When setting up the items on your home work desk ensure the keyboard and mouse is out just in front of you and the mouse shouldn’t be any more than 5-10cm from the keyboard at any time.

Many people working from home will be working off a laptop – but they’re not designed for prolonged use and it’s recommended you use a separate keyboard and mouse if it is to be your primary work computer.

If you’ve been injured while working from home or you’re unsure about your claim and how to go about it, call Law Partners on 13 15 15 and have a confidential conversation with a specialist workers compensation lawyer today.

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