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Coronavirus COVID-19 Resource Hub:

A resource for businesses

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The Path Forward

In March 2020, we established this dedicated hub as a business resource for our customers to help them manage day-to-day operations when navigating the growing risks associated with COVID-19. As the pandemic and responses to it evolve, we continue to provide content and resources here.

  • How will COVID-19 developments impact and define the challenges ahead?
  • How do businesses and their employees best move forward and adapt to the COVID-19 workplace?
  • How do all of us participate in building a safer, more resilient future?

Lessons and resources to help companies remain open during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We share ideas you can implement to build resilience.

Business travel has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many companies are resuming the practice. Here are some travel safety tips to consider. 

Employer focus on mental wellness can help smooth transitions back to offices, retail businesses and other workplaces following COVID shutdowns.

Workplace ergonomics matter at an office desk or a kitchen table
Sep 21, 2021

Remote workers at home during the pandemic need to adjust to the same ergonomic risks their employers would address in a traditional workplace.

By Alan Roberts, Senior Health & Safety Risk Engineering Consultant, Zurich North America

For some time, forward-looking companies have been incorporating flexible work rules allowing employees to work from home on an as-needed basis. Enabled by technology, remote working can help accommodate a range of employee needs, from being available for service appointments to being home when children are on holiday from school. However, virtually overnight the coronavirus pandemic turned a “nice-to-have” option into an absolute necessity.

The result has been an explosion in remote working, transposing millions of employees from corporate desks to kitchen and dining room tables. And for many of these workers, creating a home workspace that is both productive and ergonomically sound has been one of the most challenging adjustments. This is no small concern, because a home workspace not supportive of good posture, comfort and employee well-being can result in fatigue, work stress and repetitive-motion injuries.

Prolonged sitting may even be a threat to health. Following an analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels, the Mayo Clinic found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity faced health risks like those posed by obesity and smoking.1

Understand common ergonomic risk drivers

While many organizations have guidelines promoting ergonomic principles, most of these are likely to be focused on the corporate workspace, with limited attention paid to home working arrangements. However, the same drivers of ergonomic risk can apply in both venues:

  • Force – Contact stress and the force with which it is experienced occurs whenever we rest parts of our bodies against hard or sharp surfaces. The force of that contact can pinch nerves in vulnerable parts of the wrist and elbows, in addition to restricting circulation to the lower legs. Over time, these stresses can create inflammation and injuries.
     
  • Posture – Non-neutral, awkward postures, such as those caused by improper seating or improperly positioned equipment, can result in strains to the neck, shoulder and arms, and upper/lower back. Like contact stress, non-neutral postures over the course of many days can lead to injury.
     
  • Repetition – Repetitive motions are known to cause stress on tendon and muscle groups. This can result in tendinitis or tenosynovitis, the latter being a “drying out” of tendons inside the tendon sheaths that can result in painful inflammation and loss of grip strength.
     
  • Duration – This is a multiplier of the other factors. Keyboarding, using a computer mouse, prolonged viewing of monitors, or awkward postures for lengths of time without breaks can contribute to strained muscle-tendon groups, eyestrain and discomfort.

Many newly remote employees may be learning that the kitchen table or couch that was a pleasant enough spot for now-and-then home working may not be ergonomically friendly for longer durations. And for both workers and employers, gains in reducing repetitive stress and other ergonomic risks might be negatively impacted.

To work effectively, take it easy

The overriding goal in setting up any long-term or intermediate home workspace is to achieve a neutral body posture enabling the employee to work without undue physical stress while at the same time managing overall exposure through the use of scheduled breaks for rest and recovery of potentially strained muscle-tendon groups.

A good rule of thumb to follow is what is sometimes called the “90-90-90 principle.” For optimal comfort and stress reduction, there should be a 90-degree angle positioning the ankles to the lower legs, a 90-degree angle from lower legs to thighs, and 90 degrees from upper legs to torso. Add to that a 90-degree angle governing the position of the lower and upper arms. Feet should be positioned flat against the floor, not dangling.

If the chair being used daily does not provide adequate support for the lower back, rolling up a bath towel and securing it with a bungee cord or belt can help to accommodate the natural S-curve of the spine. This, in turn, will help to keep the head and neck in optimal position.

  • Chairs and seated posture – Again, adjust the chair to ensure to the extent possible 90-degree angles between upper and lower arms, low-back to thighs, thighs to lower legs and lower legs to the ankles.
     
  • Monitor – Position the computer monitor within the frame of the body (between shoulders) and elevate using a book or monitor riser to ensure that the chin is level. When using dual monitors attempt to strike a balance by centering the monitors in a manner which will reduce extreme swings in terms of head/neck rotation.
     
  • Keyboard and pointing devices – Laptop keyboards are oftentimes awkward to use over long periods and can contribute to awkward viewing angles and use of extreme wrist postures. Ideally, they should be supplemented with detachable or wireless keyboards and a mouse positioned on the same plane to maintain a 90-degree orientation for the upper and lower arm.
     
  • Lighting – Interior lighting should be adequate to reduce eyestrain when reviewing any hardcopy materials, while steps should be taken to reduce glare from external light filtering in through windows. Repositioning the monitor and desk or workplace surface at 90 degrees from a window will reduce the risks of eyestrain due to direct or reflective glare.

Take five … or a little more

One of the ironies of working from home is that we may spend more time in front of a computer screen than when at a normal workplace. Before the coronavirus-driven exodus to widespread remote work, most of us began our days with a commute. Once at the workplace, we walked to and from our workspace, to meetings, to lunch, or simply to check in with coworkers in a hallway or social area. Working exclusively at home, the commute is from bedroom to kitchen to workspace, and virtual meetings occupy the same screens we work on all day.

So, it is important for home workers to take frequent breaks to facilitate needed blood flow and circulation to stressed muscle-tendon groups. A review of selected research articles and OSHA recommendations suggests that taking five-minute breaks for every 50 minutes worked is optimal, although slightly longer breaks may be better suited to employees performing more communication-intensive call center roles. Breaks may include simple stretches or physically stepping away from the workstation for a few minutes. It’s good for your body, your stress level, and your productivity.

Set and respect boundaries

While most of us are accustomed to “burning the midnight oil” when a high-priority project needs to be completed, having your workstation a few steps away at all times can make it all too easy to log in for just a few minutes, “checking in” … until hours later family members are wondering where you are. Set boundaries and respect them.

And no skipping lunch! Break for a reasonable time for lunch and step away from your workstation while enjoying your meal. Also, stay hydrated.

Raise awareness of repetitive stress

As a proactive step, you will want to ensure your employees are trained on the symptoms of early onset of repetitive stress injuries (RSI). Early reporting has historically been the Achilles’ heel for RSIs due in part to employees’ lack of knowledge of when to report and why. OSHA in some state-administered plans like California under Cal/OSHA, require employee training in symptom recognition and consequences of these kinds of injuries to ensure employees are knowledgeable about when to report discomfort to their employers.

Symptoms like the early onset of mild-to-moderate discomfort, soreness or pain about the neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, arm, forearms, wrist, and thigh areas2 can be precursors to a more serious condition which could require care and treatment. Signs of favoring one body part over the other can also indicate employee discomfort and injury. Contact your workers’ compensation medical care provider for more details on these other symptoms associated with office workstation ergonomics.

The evolving future of work

While the coronavirus will ultimately be defeated, it is likely that new, hybrid working models integrating a greater percentage of remote employees will be the future of work. Many employees new to long-term, work-from-home arrangements have discovered many benefits of this new reality, from reduced commuting expenses to more time with family. Indeed, many employers have also discovered that with efficient connective technologies, organizations can be every bit as capable of delivering on their customer promises as when everyone was present at the office.

But, as is true in any working model, attention to the well-being of employees will remain a critical component in the enablement of productive and safe workplaces — whether a corporate campus or a suburban home.

  1. Laskowski, Edward R. MD. “What are the risks of sitting too much?” Healthy Lifestyle – Adult Health. Mayo Clinic. 21 August 2020.
  2. Cornell Musculoskeletal Discomfort Questionnaire. Cornell University 2021.

The information in this publication was compiled from sources believed to be reliable for informational purposes only. All sample policies and procedures herein should serve as a guideline, which you can use to create your own policies and procedures. We trust that you will customize these samples to reflect your own operations and believe that these samples may serve as a helpful platform for this endeavor. Any and all information contained herein is not intended to constitute advice (particularly not legal advice). Accordingly, persons requiring advice should consult independent advisors when developing programs and policies. We do not guarantee the accuracy of this information or any results and further assume no liability in connection with this publication and sample policies and procedures, including any information, methods or safety suggestions contained herein. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of this information, whether to reflect new information, future developments, events or circumstances or otherwise.  Moreover, Zurich reminds you that this cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances.  The subject matter of this publication is not tied to any specific insurance product nor will adopting these policies and procedures ensure coverage under any insurance policy.

 

For more information on COVID-19 visit Zurich's Coronavirus Resource Hub

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